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Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories Paperback – November 6, 2012
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"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"
""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"
"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"
"Readers will be shocked, amazed, and always entertained by the work of this accomplished writer of short fiction." --"Booklist"
"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"
"A top-notch debut... that deserves big praise. The beginning, one suspects, of a fine career." --"Kirkus"
Top customer reviews
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.
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!
Throughout these stories, no matter what female voice narrates, there's a beautiful acceptance of others, of the homeless and mentally ill--"this morning Our Neil Diamond [not "the" Neil Diamond] pulled his penis out and danced around the cantaloupe patch screaming, 'Impotent melons! Impotent melons!'" This from a narrator who cannot conceive, at least not yet, but accepts life without bitterness. These are, if you will, flawed but truly lovely characters.
If you love animals, you'll enjoy these stories. As the title suggests, animals are metaphors throughout, maybe to be expected from an author who is married to a vet.
Many of these are stories that seem to say, as least to me, "Please write me into a novel, please expand me because I'm too good not to." I want to know if the 39-year-old woman and Max do have a baby. And if not, what happens as they age. I want to know if the non-religious woman who's left her husband--he was a cheater--and has a photo of the Virgin Mary clipped to the headboard of her bed will continue to talk with the photo about giving up men. That is funny, talking to the Virgin Mary about giving up men!
"Night Hunting" is told in the mature voice, a retrospective of a teenage girl whose mother is dying. They have returned to her mother's parents' home in Pawlet, Vermont, where a coyote has plagued the town. Since I lived nearly five decades in Vermont, I enjoyed the authenticity of the people and setting although I wonder what the good folks of Pawlet think about this sentence: "Pawlet was the kind of place where young girls fell in with older men and got pregnant; slim pickings led to cross-generational romance."
We all know of someone who loves and adopts all types of animals, in this case even castrated rams with this type of response from the neighbors: "Recipes began appearing in my mailbox, compliments of neighbors. Braised lamb shanks with rice. Curried lamb stew. Lamb Kebabs. Tandoori-spiced leg of lamb." That story is titled "Every Vein a Tooth."
I lived for several years in Key West (yes, from Vermont to Key West and now South Beach.) So "The Artificial Heart," a satire, is just wonderful. The narrator's father is 91 and has dementia. It is 2050, so he has devices such as an artificial heart that keeps him alive. Key West is "a sunny kind of purgatory," later described as "a town of burned-out drunks." That is the truth! Dad has fallen in love. That is if he can remember who this 80-year-old woman is. Or her name. Dad has been predicting all his life the demise of the planet. And it has happened with the coral reefs now dead, the sea filled with ugliness. And then this line which says it all: "Dad said Key Westers will stick a palm tree and a bar in any old dump and call it a resort."
Two of my favorite authors are Elizabeth Strout ("Olive Kitteridge") and Rachel Joyce ("The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry")--and I think Megan Mayhew Bergman has been elevated up with them.