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Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories Hardcover – March 6, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2012: Megan Mayhew Bergman’s collection of stories contains all of the elements that, it could be said, make up the very best in short fiction: each story is beautiful, full of palpable pain or joy--sometimes both--all loosely connected and based on the types of figures we’ve all known in our lives. But what sets this collection of stories apart is that each sentence feels sturdily crafted, each ending feels satisfying in a way short fiction rarely does. Mayhew Bergman does something exceptional with Birds of a Lesser Paradise--she quickly constructs a world filled with animals and nature and family who hate and love and mostly need one another--and it feels complete. --Alexandra Foster


Birds of a Lesser Paradise is an astonishing debut collection, by a writer reminiscent of such greats as Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout and even Chekhov. Expertly delivered, Bergman's stories bloom from the minutiae of life. They confirm the inescapable power that nature--and our own biology--has over us.”
– Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

“Megan Mayhew Bergman apparently possesses, all in one sensibility, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s love of a back-to-the-land self-sufficiency, Amy Hempel’s infinite tenderness towards animals, and Tillie Olsen’s fierce sense of the emotional intensities of motherhood. Birds of a Lesser Paradise features characters who, even understanding it as well as they do, want to mother the world, and their stories are rendered with dazzling compassion, intelligence, and grace.”
– Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad

“A big-hearted collection of stories—each one a precise and compassionate study of human life, the changes and obstacles—all carefully housed under the miracles and marvels of nature. Megan Mayhew Bergman is a brilliantly gifted writer who recognizes and highlights life's fragilities in a way that will leave your heart aching while also finding those bits of hilarity and absurdity that bring uniqueness to each and every creature.”
– Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes

“I predict that astronomers will soon be renaming the star Sirius to Megan Mayhew Bergman. Birds of a Lesser Paradise offers us a spectacular new voice in the world of American short fiction. The characters in these stories—each one—perform as beacons on who we are and how we should act, all without pretense or exhortation. This is a first-rate collection.”
—George Singleton, author of The Half-Mammals of Dixie

"Bergman's excellent stories are hard-earned and well-honed. Her characters speak as if their very lives depend upon getting it right, getting it down, facing the toughest stuff that tumbles down with equal toughness and enduring resilience. A very fine and impressive debut."
Brad Watson, author of Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives

"Readers will be shocked, amazed, and always entertained by the work of this accomplished writer of short fiction." --Booklist

"A top-notch debut... that deserves big praise. The beginning, one suspects, of a fine career." --Kirkus

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451643357
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451643350
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #787,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ten years ago, I never thought I'd live on a farm in Vermont, but here I am, with chickens, a veterinarian husband, two hard-charging daughters, too many dogs, and a worn in pair of muck boots. I still don't really know how to ski.

Things I like: Prince, George Michael, Stevie Nicks, yoga, vegetarian food, biographies about passionate women, short stories, beautiful sentences.

You can learn more about my work at, or follow me on Twitter @mayhewbergman.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman contains several very fine stories, especially the first three. Most of the stories are about animals and humans and how they interact. For instance, in the title story Ms. Bergman states that "I was taught that at the heart of all people, all things, lay raw self-interest. Sure, you could dress a person up nice, put pretty words in his mouth, but underneath the silk tie and pressed shirt was an animal. A territorial, hungry animal anxious to satisfy his own needs." On the surface, this story is about a woman of 36 who has been raised by her widowed father in the swamplands where he has a birding business. Isolated, Mae becomes entranced by a handsome customer who ends up putting her and her father in a dangerous situation while in search of the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker.

'Saving Face' is about a once beautiful veterinarian who gets bitten on the face by a wolf who comes out of anesthesia too soon. She feels her loss of beauty along with the pity that follows her. She has postponed her marriage, not letting her fiance touch her. "She regretted the care with which she tugged the quills from the dog's lips - the same lips that opened to reveal brutal teeth that had torn into her face with an almost feral abandon as the dog unexpectedly came to."

'Yesterday's Whales' is about Malachi who runs an organization dedicated to advocating the end of humankind, sacrificing the human race to let nature reclaim the earth. No more breeding of humans. When his girlfriend gets pregnant, discord ensues. Malachi believes that every human life drains the earth's limited resources.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By AZ Reader on March 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Strongly recommend. In my packed work weeks, and weekends of family,house projecting and normal busyness, I have only a few moments to enjoy reading, and strive (and fail, sometimes) to find something well-written, imaginative and engaging to make the most of the moments... This book is a winner, one that I can enjoy over 15 minutes with a cup of tea or just before bed, or in the stolen, wind-down moments from a busy day where 15 minutes turns into an hour. I've picked up Birds of a Lesser Paradise a dozen times in the past week, reading different stories, being brought into Mayhew Bergman's solidly crafted, interesting characters and well-developed story arcs.

As it did with me, I think the stories Mayhew Bergman writes will appeal to nature and animal lovers, mothers, families; there's appeal to all in her varied, home-centered narratives. Even though the lives of people in the book are a distant cry from my day to day life sometimes, I feel I can relate to them, carried into their lives and struggles through the welcoming pages of Birds of a Lesser Paradise.

Enjoy this book!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jaime H. on March 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In this collection of short stories, Bergman weaves together a series of intimate stories, each with their own focus of effects and influence of nature in our daily lives. The stories explore birth, death, and the living that comes in between. In what amounts to a solid and intricately woven collection, each story easily stands alone. Bergman achieves what is difficult to do with a short story: the ability to full articulate each history, while allowing room for the possibility of the characters to grow into a full story of their own.

While all the stories were interesting and equal in rhythm, there were two that really stood out to me. The first was "Yesterday's Whales," in which the main character is a proponent of population control, and discovers she is pregnant. She is forced to explore her entire belief system, and figure out how the new knowledge can fit within her current framework- or if she can even live the same life anymore. The other standout was "Saving Face," with a character whose face has been scarred and learns what it means to be treated differently because of something that is out of her control. She must learn to rethink her idea of beauty, learn to love herself, and learn to let others in again. However, the price of being scarred on the inside is far greater than the scars on the outside.

Throughout the collection, Bergman explores the relationship between humans and nature, the concept of nature versus nurture, and how the idea of human nature relates to it all. The idea of the cycle of life, and how we deal with birth and death are prominent throughout as well.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'd rate this 4.5 stars if I could...darn you, whole numbers!

Megan Mayhew Bergman's short story collection, Birds of a Lesser Paradise, is a definite find. Sometimes moving, sometimes funny, sometimes insightful, these stories depict women's interactions with nature in its many forms--biological, zoological, and psychological--and how sometimes you just don't understand its influence.

There are a number of terrific stories in this collection, but among my favorites were "Housewifely Arts," which told of a woman and her son driving to a zoo nine hours away from her home so she can find a parrot that used to belong to her mother and imitated her voice perfectly; "Yesterday's Whales," the story of an advocate for population control who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant; "The Two-Thousand-Dollar Sock," which followed a woman's struggles with motherhood, honey-seeking bears, and a sick dog; and the title story, about a naturalist and her father who are led into the swamp by a mysterious stranger, searching for an elusive woodpecker.

Some of the stories resonated more for me than others, and only one or two didn't quite hit the mark. I was really taken by Bergman's voice and her ability to occupy and embody so many different narrators and imbue them with great depth. Some of the characters are similar, and at first glance I wondered if some of the stories were interconnected, but the more the stories unwound, I realized their differences. While some of the situations her characters find themselves in may be hard to identify with, nothing was ever unrealistic, and that added to the stories' appeal.
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