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Almost Famous Women: Stories Hardcover – January 6, 2015

3.4 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Every one of these stories is as vibrant, as urgent, as surprising as the women therein. What a thrill to listen as they cohere into a chorus of powerful, affecting and often hilarious voices, each unforgettable, together undeniable. Another stunning collection from the brilliant Megan Mayhew Bergman." (--Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn)

Almost Famous Women is sharp, compassionate, and strong, just like the women depicted in its pages. Megan Mayhew Bergman writes with such precision that we should all quake in her presence. This book only looks like it's made of paper-- you are holding priceless diamonds in your hand.” (--Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers)

“Megan Mayhew Bergman writes with an astonishing force of empathy, a compassion as bright and illuminating as a klieg light. The reader of Almost Famous Women can't help but be seduced by these eccentric, subversive, passionate women who lived their lives with their entire souls and who were furiously unapologetic for doing so.” (--Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia)

“Lovely and heartbreaking.” (Anjelica Huston, author of Watch Me)

“Megan Mayhew Bergman breathes life into lives that men and history have cast aside. It is rare that an author is as fearless as her characters. Bergman is, and Almost Famous Women is a stunning feat of great daring.” (Lily King, author of Euphoria)

"Megan Mayhew Bergman is a tremendous writer -- compassionate and intelligent, generous and funny -- and Almost Famous Women is a collection filled with empathy, insight and extraordinary psychological precision. Mayhew Bergman has made the women who inhabit this beautiful book come fully to life -- I won't ever forget them." (Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans)

"A collection of stories as beautiful and strange as the women who inspired them." (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

"Rough-cut gems of a bygone era." (O, The Oprah Magazine)

“In these inventive short stories, off-the-radar historical characters—a motorbike racer, a diva, Oscar Wilde’s niece—enter the limelight at last.” (MORE Magazine)

"Gutsy and expertly written." (Bustle)

"Fearless stories star[ring] an eccentric cavalcade." (Vanity Fair)

"Gives us the best of what short fiction offers: a glimpse of intriguing characters, told in unique and varied voices, set in pivotal snatches of their fascinating lives... Bergman is a spry and meticulous writer, and these stories linger in one’s memory long after reading them." (Jim Carmin Minneapolis Star Tribune)

"Stories that are so intriguing you wish they were full-length novels... Bergman revives these often troubled spirits with great compassion." (Connie Ogle Miami Herald)

"Real women are found at the heart of these tales, women unusual for their times and almost entirely forgotten in ours... Arresting... Sympathetic, never romanticizing often self-destructive behavior, but exploring why these women sought risk taking and the effect of their impulses." (Leanna Bales Kansas City Star)

"Seek within to find the forgotten. Bergman's well-written short stories tell the tales of women who almost made it into history books." (Tara Wanda Merrigan GQ)

"Thrill-seeking women abound in the collection, chock-full of bravery, defiance and creativity." (Cheryl Crocker McKeon Shelf Awareness)

"There's an allure to reading about the historical lives of women who bucked social conventions, even when they come, as they so often do, to a tragic end. We read them with an element of wish-fulfillment, searching for assurances that there were other ways to think and be." (Amy Gentry Chicago Tribune)

"Graceful prose charged with knowingness and certitude... Thanks to Bergman’s assured writing, many of these women — fictional and historical — will burn bright in one’s mind well after reading these fine stories." (S. Kirk Walsh Boston Globe)

"Bergman’s scenarios are addictive and tantalizing, each one whetting our appetite for more... stunning depictions of how fame’s fire warms with even the slightest contact." (Gina Webb Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

"Bergman always historicizes and never idealizes... by assiduously depicting their intimacy and power struggles, she allows for a close examination of the multiciplicty of women's experiences." (Naomi Fry The New York Times Book Review)

"By exploring the women who didn't quite make it into history books, Bergman offers thoughtful commentary on the stories we do and don't preserve." (Maddie Crum The Huffington Post)

"Ingenious… atmospheric… intense, richly imagined tales." (Maureen Corrigan Fresh Air)

"A cleverly constructed, honest, and thoughtful book of stories. Fans of historical fiction and biography will find much to delight and ponder in these pages." (Julie Hakim Azzam Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

"[Bergman] nimbly animates the stories when she approaches them from tangential angles, often from the perspective of another character with something at stake." (John Williams The New York Times)

"Fascinating." (People Magazine)

About the Author

Megan Mayhew Bergman is the author of Almost Famous Women and Birds of a Lesser Paradise. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Best American Short Stories, New Stories from the South, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and Oxford American, among other publications. She lives on a small farm in Vermont with her veterinarian husband, two daughters, and many animals.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (January 6, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476786569
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476786568
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Larry Hoffer on January 6, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

"Maybe the world had been bad to its great and unusual women. Maybe there wasn't a worthy place for the female hero to live out her golden years, to be celebrated as the men had been celebrated, to take from that celebration what she needed to survive."

The annals of history—and the literary world—are filled with tales of famous women, those whose names have become common knowledge and in some cases, even household words. But for every famous woman, there are countless women whose fame is fleeting, or even those who remain just out of the spotlight, yet their stories deserve to be told.

In Megan Mayhew Bergman's new short story collection, Almost Famous Women, she brings attention to the stories of some women whose names might be vaguely familiar, and many which are not. From a pair of conjoined twins who flirted briefly with show business to a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band in the midst of racial unrest, author Beryl Markham and Gone with the Wind actress Butterfly McQueen to Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece, and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister, Norma, the characters in these stories are vivid and fascinating in many cases, teaching us many things we'd probably never know and getting us to think in ways we might never do.
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Format: Kindle Edition
As the saying goes, every character is the hero of their own story. Conjoined sisters, Byron’s illegitimate daughter, and Oscar Wilde’s niece–these are just some of the powerful stories that Megan Mayhew writes about in “Almost Famous Women.” This is a collection of short stories not just detailing the lives of women who are basking in the faded glory of a limelight that could have been their own, but also the other “minor” characters in their lives. The masterful aspect of this collection was how the stories illuminated the minor characters close to the leading ladies—these were men and women in the background, in the shadows, looming in the distance like ghosts. In some of these stories, these minor characters became my favorite story tellers.

My favorite stories were “The Pretty, Grown-together Children,” “The Autobiography of Allegra Byron,” “Saving Butterfly McQueen” and “Who Killed Dolly Wilde.” In “The Autobiography of Allegra Byron” the story is less about Byron’s illegitimate daughter and more about her nameless caretaker in the Convent she is sent to live in. Her caretaker had just lost her infant daughter and finds herself attached to Allegra’s bright personality and spirit. Similarly in “Saving Butterfly McQueen,” the protagonist is studying to become a doctor and while inspecting her first dead body she thinks back to when she was a younger girl and met Butterfly McQueen, an atheist. The story becomes a commentary on the protagonist shedding her religious background for science.

Each of the stories are economic with their words and some very short, but with vivid details and descriptions the places come alive, the characters leap from the page.
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I'll share the blame, but I felt duped by Almost Famous Women, and Amazon/Kindle didn't help.

I was under the impression that these were true stories about women of interest and importance that history had bypassed. It put me in mind of the well-done books NPR and ABC corespondent Cokie Roberts wrote about unsung heroines in American history and politics. I'm not sure where I first heard about the Megan Bergman book, but whatever it was caused me to seek it out on Amazon and buy it on Kindle.

"From the acclaimed author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, a dazzling new collection that explores the lives of unforgettable women in history," was the lead of the book's description on the Web site. I skimmed a bit of what followed and quickly made the purchase. When I opened the Kindle, the first page was the first page of the first story -- no table of contents and, importantly, no forward. I didn't give it a thought, just started reading.

It wasn't long until I was wondering about the veracity of the stories. Beyond that, I was not at all charmed with nor especially interested in the portrayals of these women. Additionally there seemed to be a recurring them of sexual wandering that tied the women together. I'm not a prude, but that's not the book I that was described.

I was thinking about bailing on the book, but in considering all the positive reviews figured I must be missing something, so I read on. Around the halfway mark I decided to give up, but first went back to the Amazon page and read some of the negative reviews. They were right in step with me -- both regarding the fictional nature of the book and their disappointment in the depth of their character. Still, in understanding that it is a work of fiction I decided to try again.
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