Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: "Birds of a Lesser Paradise" by Megan Mayhew Bergman

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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