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Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
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. His girlfriend, in deciding what to do about the baby, muster up hope about the world's future. "We wanted the same thing, I think, an earth less taxed by human presence. But giving up on life now, I felt, was like leaving the party early."

In 'Night Hunting', a young woman is dealing with her mother's impending death from breast cancer. She learns about her own strength in the face of predators. "The best predators, I realized, had no empathy."

'The Two-Thousand Dollar Sock' tells of a family's dog who has an intestinal blockage from eating a sock and they don't have the $2,000 for the veterinarian to do exploratory surgery. Despite the dog being at death's door, he is able to chase a predatory bear away from the house and protect his family.

My favorite story in the collection is 'Housewifely Arts' which I've read previously in The Best Short Stories of 2011. A woman is taking a 9 hour drive to visit her deceased mother's parrot. While living, her mother and she had a complicated relationship. Now the daughter misses her mother and realizes that her mother's voice resides in her mother's parrot who can perfectly mimic her. The daughter has trouble remembering what her mother sounded like and realizes that the parrot has more of her mother inside her than she does. "...We're driving to a small roadside zoo outside of Myrtle Beach so that I can hear my mother's voice call from the beak of a thirty-six year-old African gray parrot, a bird I hated, a bird that could beep like a microwave, ring like a phone, and sneeze just like me."

In 'Every Vein a Tooth', Gray decides to leave his girlfriend, an animal activist, because her home is filled with animals and it's just too much for him. When given the choice, she chooses her animals over him.

All of the stories are about the relationship of people to the natural world, mostly through their relationship with animals. In some stories, the animals know their people better than any human does. Ms. Bergman, who is married to a veterinarian, has obviously studied and been with animals. Her stories are palpably about nature and the food chain, the relationship that humans have with the earth and the animals that reside here beside us. Most of the stories are wonderful but a few are weak and could have been left out of this collection. The first three stories in the collection are the strongest and the book is worth reading for these alone.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 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
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. Birds of a Lesser Paradise achieves what many short stories collections struggle with: each of the stories are intrinsically and intimately connected, yet they tell a story that is all their own. Each voice is clear and distinct, yet together they collaborate into a common voice of questioning everything and not taking anything for granted.

The question remains as to whether Bergman intends to continue as a short-story author, or if perhaps one of the characters within the pages of Birds will find a larger voice in a full-length novel of her own. Either way, there is sure to be an audience for the quietly powerful new author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified 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.

As I've commented many times before, when short stories are done right, they captivate you and leave you wanting to know more about the characters when the stories are finished. With this collection, I felt that way nearly all the time, and I would have loved to know what happened to some of these women after the last sentence of their stories.

This is a tremendously enjoyable, refreshingly candid, and well-written collection I'd definitely recommend to short story fans. And Bergman is an author to watch!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I read "Birds of a Lesser Paradise" by Megan Mayhew Bergman in one sitting. The twelve short stories in the book revolve around nature and animals and how they affect people's lives and relationships. The human relationships are very poignant in the book, and I found myself very involved in some of them, especially with the woman in "Housewifely Arts" who never liked her mother's talking bird, but takes a road trip to the zoo he was given to in order to hear the bird talk so that she might hear her mother's voice and words one more time. It brought tears to my eyes.

All of the stories could have just as easily been little snippets of memoirs, they seemed that real to me. Dealing with a parent with dementia as in "The Artificial Heart" was very familiar, having dealt with the same thing in the past, so I could certainly relate to that. Although I've never retreated to a small beach cottage to get some time away from family or to seek solace and independence as a few of Bergman's characters do, there are certainly times when I wish I could have, and like them, I would have taken all my animals with me or else collected a few strays along the way.

I think the strongest stories are "Housewifely Arts", "Birds of a Lesser Paradise" and "Yesterday's Whales." The writing is excellent and the messages are especially good in these three. All of the others are extremely well done, also, but some are not quite as rich and full of texture and that personal flavor that the others have. However, I can't give this book anything but five stars.

I enjoyed it so much that I am anxiously awaiting more by this new author, and I highly recommend this book to readers of literary fiction, short story fans and anyone who likes stories with nature and animals involved in human lives. These twelve stories are sure to touch your heart and leave you with memorable characters who will stay with you for a long time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is a treasure and was a joy to read. I moved through it slowly, wanting to savor each story and the characters.

I think what Ms. Bergman grasps and illustrates so accurately is the human capacity to feel joy, pain, despair, guilt, pleasure, fear, and love, all within a millisecond of each other. This complexity of "human-ness" is difficult to genuinely capture in a book, much less a series of short stories. And yet, over and over again, I was drawn into these brief life portraits...of an alcoholic mother struggling between providing maternal care and her own inner demons....of a survivor of a disfiguring attack contemplating closeness and distance with the people and animals around her....of a woman fearing for her own life while mourning the mortal injury to her coyote stalker....The stories are interesting and engaging, and the themes ring true for me.

This books speaks to motherhood (or the desire for it), the human connection to the animal world, and the continual search for and test of self-identity, but none of these subjects is touched upon lightly or simply. While this is not a book that provides answers to life's struggles, these are stories that bring us closer to the essence of humanity...the often ambiguous and intricate ways in which people achieve or fall short of their search for connection.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I just finished reading Housewifely Arts in another collection of short stories and immediately went on Amazon to buy her book. I was deeply touched by this poignant, sad, beautifully written story that the tears just flowed from my eyes, a rare thing at my age of 72. I know well the desire to hear the voices of all the loved ones I have lost during my life and understand the truth that you can never stop your heart for longing for them. Ms Bergman has expressed this so eloquently in her story. I like her clean style of writing and am looking forward to savoring the rest of the stories and hope that she has more in the works. I am going to wait a while though because I want to turn this story over in my mind and and enjoy the aftertaste of her lovely writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
this collection is a wonder. even my husband, who does not read short stories (except for mine), found himself immersed in the book one day when i left him in the car while i went into a store to grab something, said he was amazed at what a great read the book is. he did not want to put it down until he had finished the story he was reading. i go through the book at random, picking a story here, one there, sometimes re-reading one especially liked.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Ms. Mayhew Bergman has put together short stories that are so well written and so interesting, that it is hard to put the book down until a story is finished. She happens to teach literature near my home in Bennington, Vermont. Her web site is always fun and beautifully put together. We look forward to more of her writing and I hope to meet her someday. Virginia LiCalsi Cohen
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
BIRDS OF A LESSER PARADISE is a pretty stunning collection. Imagery is cropped both delicately and precisely, parents and children drift apart and meet again, struggling to understand one another. Couples break up and reunite, but the end result is never quite as important as the emotional mechanics, the resonant thought patterns which pull these stories to their inevitable conclusions. Bergman is immensely talented at plotting out specific parts of the psyche, and possesses a wonderful ability to draw out warmth and hope in even washed up characters. This is really lovely work.

My one major complaint is that these stories seem to echo over and over again within the same thematic space. I'm fine with fiction not offering solutions and only exploring issues, emotions, but exploring the same set of ideas again and again does grow grating after 200 pages. Still, this is strong, powerful fiction with precise language.

Worth reading for any fans of the modern short story.
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