Monday, July 27, 2015

Audiobook Review: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

From Goodreads:
The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader's imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde's troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.
Writing
I'm usually drawn to short stories with a somewhat fantastical twist, along the lines of George Saunders or Karen Russel, but heard so many amazing things about this collection of historically inspired stories that I couldn't pass it up.  It wound up being everything the reviews said and more.  I loved the author's voice and felt like she managed to capture multiple, diverse characters and make them each original and separate from the others.  Characterization is short stories is hard, because you only have thirty or so pages to get to know the characters.  Bergman doesn't let that limitation stop her from creating rich, complex characters who leap off the page.

Entertainment Value
You'll want to read this one with Wikipedia open and a pen in hand.  The uniting idea behind this collection is that it features women who were close to fame, although not necessarily famous in their own right, or women who achieved a bit of fame, but aren't the ones we learn about in school.  Every single one of the stories was fascinating and I spent quite a bit of time after each one looking into the background to find out all I could about the story's subject.  I added several biographies to my TBR list as a result.  Even if you're not interested in the history behind the stories, I still think readers will be pleased with how well-drawn each of these stories is.  There's something to grab you in each selection and, when put together as a whole, make a beautiful tapestry that showcases both the author's talent and the experience of being a woman throughout history.  I couldn't stop listening.

Narration
No complaints here - I liked the narrator's voice and thought that, like Bergman, she did a great job of creating a unique voice for each story.  That's not to say that she overacts or employs cheesy accents - each story sounds natural and fluid, and I appreciated her changes in intonation to give a different sound to each narrator.

Overall
I highly recommend this one to any short story fans.  I'll be watching all of Bergman's future publications, as well as adding her backlist to my TBR.

Thanks to the Free Library of Philadelphia and Hoopla for providing me with an audio copy!

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