My rating: 3 of 5 stars
From "a top-notch emerging writer with a crisp and often poetic voice and wily, intelligent humor" (The Boston Globe): a collection of stories that explores the lives of talented, gutsy women throughout history.
The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader's imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde's troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.
The world hasn't always been kind to unusual women, but through Megan Mayhew Bergman's alluring depictions they finally receive the attention they deserve. Almost Famous Women is a gorgeous collection from an "accomplished writer of short fiction" (Booklist).
This book and I got a bit of a wrong start. I was expecting (looking really forward to) reading about these almost famous women as a nonfiction book. But it turned out to be historical fiction instead. But I prevailed and I actually liked most of the stories since. For instance, we get to know Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s niece, Butterfly McQueen who was in Gone with the Wind, author Bery Markham, the painter Romaine Remains etc. Some people in the book had I heard of before, some I hadn't.
But there were things with the book that bemused me like for instance a chapter about Allegra Byron, Lord Byron’s daughter, she was 5 when she died, hardly a famous woman, more like a famous child or, at least, a famous girl. Then we have a chapter called The Interness about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Every other chapter up till then had been about one famous woman; this was about how expired lipstick was given to the women in the concentrations camp. Felt a bit like this story should have been in another book that was more about groups of women, like suffragettes. Last but not least the Lottery, redux, this is a “cover story” of Shirley Jacksons “The Lottery”. Good story but why put a pure fiction story, a remake of a classic, in a book about almost famous women that have actually lived?
In the end, I liked the book. It was interesting and many of the women did I google to find out more about. Btw that was also a problem, a short biography before every chapter had have been nice. Now it felt that Megan Mayhew Bergman felt that the reader, of course, knows everything about the women that the story is about. (But this is an ARC this could change in the finished book.)
I want to thank the publisher for providing me with a free copy through NetGalley for an honest review!