From a prizewinning, beloved young author, a provocative collection that explores the lives of colorful, intrepid women in history. “These stories linger in one’s memory long after reading them” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis).
The fascinating characters in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “collection of stories as beautiful and strange as the women who inspired them” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) are defined by their creative impulses, fierce independence, and sometimes reckless decisions. In “The Siege at Whale Cay,” cross-dressing Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs seduces Marlene Dietrich. In “A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down for Lunch,” aviator and writer Beryl Markham lives alone in Nairobi and engages in a battle of wills with a stallion. In “Hell-Diving Women,” the first integrated, all-girl swing band sparks a violent reaction in North Carolina.
Other heroines, born in proximity to the spotlight, struggle to distinguish themselves: Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s wild niece, Dolly; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talented sister, Norma; James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia. Almost Famous Women offers an elegant and intimate look at artists who desired recognition. “By assiduously depicting their intimacy and power struggles, Bergman allows for a close examination of the multiplicity of women’s experiences” (The New York Times Book Review).
The world wasn’t always kind to the women who star in these stories, but through Mayhew Bergman’s stunning imagination, they receive the attention they deserve. Almost Famous Women is “addictive and tantalizing, each story whetting our appetite for more” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
The conceit for Bergman's second collection (after Birds of a Lesser Paradise) is immediately appealing short, punchy sketches of women either completely neglected by popular memory or better known for their association with men. Hence we have Lucia Joyce, daughter of James, in "Expression Theory," Norma Millay occupying the shadow of her sister, Vincent, in "Norma Millay's Film Noir Period," and the steady dissolution of Oscar Wilde's niece in "Who Killed Dolly Wilde?" Bergman's strongest stories concentrate on the historical moments in which her cast of characters (which includes conjoined twins, lady stunt motorcyclists, and smart-mouthed horn players) function as vectors, precisely because these women lesbians, artists, and African Americans remain outsiders in their own era. The larger-than-life boat racer "Joe" Carstairs makes her private island into a refuge for lost souls in "The Siege At Whale Cay"; the painter Romaine Brooks shuns even her servants in "Romain Remains"; and Butterfly McQueen repudiates both God and her most famous role, the maid from Gone With the Wind, in "Saving Butterfly McQueen." But for all its veneration for these women, the collection becomes repetitive too many devoted friends narrating the story of their doomed and famous peers, too many aging burnt-out dames and, overall, too little access to the actual voice and psychology of its heroines. Still, even with weaker entries like the redundant Shirley Jackson impression "The Lottery, Redux," the collection is worth it for its feminist reclamation of the narrative that for example celebrates Byron and forgets his abandoned daughter.