Completely not meant to be factual, though each story (save one) pulls loosely from actual real-live women who aren’t-well-known-but-kinda-in-the-brink-of-recognition, I suppose.
ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN
by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Scribner, January 2015
provided by NetGalley
Goodreads: 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.
I’m a little lukewarm on this. On the one hand, I loved the fiction that emerged from imagining what kind of life these women led and what possibly made them who they were. On the other hand, I kind of lost interest halfway through the stories because I started asking what the purpose was. I did find that I loved the uber-short pieces, and the ones that were told in the actual woman’s POV (as opposed to some made-up character that took care of the subject of the story). Then there was one story that I didn’t think fit very well, but I actually enjoyed it, so, again, lukewarm, that.
I made notes for each of the stories, but I think I’ll just highlight my personal favorites:
“The Pretty, Grown-Together Children” – First story was in the perspective of Daisy Hilton, a conjoined twin reminiscing on her life journey along with her sister Violet. I liked the fact that the story was broken up into thought processes and time periods; this is a strange thing for me to say, because normally I hate stream-of-consciousness stuff.
“Norma Millay’s Film Noir Period” – To be honest, I had to re-read this story twice because I had no idea who any of the people were, and it was hard to get into the characters when I didn’t have a clue why her sister Vincent was famous or why there was a point to this. There were written blurbs about each story at the end of the book, but by that point, it was a little late in the game. That said, I really liked this story the second time around, soon after I realized why Norma’s POV was significant.
“Hazel Eaton and the Wall of Death” – This was a short reminiscent blurb of a woman racer in the early 1900s and the actions she took to get to where she was. It was absolutely short, but rather compelling.
“Expression Theory” – Short blurb and thought process of an ex-dancer named Lucia. Again, another one of those stream-of-consciousness things, but in this case, it worked. I kind of laughed when the chair got thrown in the middle of it, though I’m not actually sure I was supposed to.
“A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down for Lunch” – Beryl Markham contemplates the taming of a stallion, all the while seeing her life flash before her. What my favorite thing about this is that there were two stories in this that get tied in together to form the picture of an accomplished woman. It was also to the point and didn’t drag on like a few of the other stories.
“The Internees” – Quite possibly the shortest story in the book, and about women liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camps during WWII. It was also quite possibly one of the more powerfully-emotional ones.
“The Lottery, Redux” – When I read the title, I immediately thought of the Shirley Jackson short story I’d read in high school. Once I finished the story, I realized it was a similar take on Jackson’s story, but only using a matriarchal line as the set of leaders. Bergman does explain the writing of this at the end of the book, but again, it would have been nice to have a blurb about each story before reading the actual thing.
3 out of 5 Goodreads stars!