Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Review: Almost Famous Women: Stories


Before I start, I need to admit that I have spent so much time researching many of the inspiring women these stories were written about. I was extremely surprised that more of these women haven't been celebrated in our history. 

This is one of my favorite books that I have read in 2016. I am glad this one sort of marks the end of 2016. So many amazing things happened with women this year.  This is an excellent collection of thirteen stories that explore the lives of historical women. This is women but women that did amazing things and got next to no credit for their actions. They are relatively unknown or only known because they have some form of association with more prestigious figures.  The author  Megan Mayhew Bergman states that " these stories are born of a fascination with real women whose remarkable lives, were reduced to footnotes. " What a powerful statement that is so true. This book really will show you there are more "almost famous" heroines than you might realize. 

All of these stories inspired and touched me in some way. From stories about Oscar Wilde’s niece, Dolly; to Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s acting sister, Norma; painter Romaine Brooks, actress Butterfly McQueen. There is such a wide variety of stories, they are both from the past and in relatively recent history. 

What is most interesting a surprising to me about this book is the use of different perspectives. This book has stories that use the past and present tense, that end up flowing between first and third perspectives. I have never seen this in any other book, and I never thought it could work. It brings such a surprising depth to the book. It made it extremely enjoyable to read and a fast read at that. 

The story I loved the most was the Internees which is extremely short, at only one and a half pages but man does it pack a punch. This story takes place in 1945. It depicts the female residents of Bergen-Belson, which was a concentration camp. When liberation finally comes they are so excited to do even the simplest of things like wear lipstick. They say, "“We were human again. We were women.” This story stuck with me for a really long time. 

I also enjoyed the story called The Pretty, Grown-Together Children,  which is about a set of conjoined twin performers. The last story I really enjoyed was Hell-Diving Women. This was a story that normally would be considered unconventional but it was about black and lesbian main characters. They were members of the first integrated female swing band. They break tons of taboos, racial and sexual. 

The biggest problem I have with this book is that the shorter stories, which the ones that only are 2-3 pages in length don't add much depth. They sort of take away from the whole meaning. This causes you to not be able to dive into any real in-depth character analysis. I really felt like it made me want to move on to the longer stories. 

Overall this is an amazing collection of stories. Bergman's ability to write historical fiction based on true women is quite mesmerizing. I am pleased the Bergman added in the Author's notes about why she picked the women she did. She also adds in further readings, which bring some credibility to the whole book. 

If you enjoy short stories, historical fiction, books about amazing women. Anything involving individuality, scandal, and living your life.  I seriously recommend  Almost Famous Women. This book is perfect for any woman, or book club. You will enjoy diving in and learning about these awesome, fearless women.

I bought this book from BookOutlet. I was not sent this book for review. 

Goodreads Description: 

"From a prizewinning, beloved young author, a provocative collection that explores the lives of colorful, intrepid women in history. These stories linger in ones memory long after reading them." (Star Tribune, Minneapolis). "The fascinating characters in Megan Mayhew Bergman's collection of stories as beautiful and strange as the women who inspired them." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) are defined by their creative impulses, fierce independence, and sometimes reckless decisions. In "The Siege at Whale Cay," cross-dressing Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs seduces Marlene Dietrich. In "A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down for Lunch," aviator and writer Beryl Markham lives alone in Nairobi and engages in a battle of wills with a stallion. In "Hell-Diving Women," the first integrated, all-girl swing band sparks a violent reaction in North Carolina.

Other heroines, born in proximity to the spotlight, struggle to distinguish themselves: Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde's wild niece, Dolly; Edna St. Vincent Millay's talented sister, Norma; James Joyce's daughter, Lucia. Almost Famous Women offers an elegant and intimate look at artists who desired recognition. "By assiduously depicting their intimacy and power struggles, Bergman allows for a close examination of the multiplicity of women's experiences" (The New York Times Book Review).

The world wasn't always kind to the women who star in these stories, but through Mayhew Bergman’s stunning imagination, they receive the attention they deserve. Almost Famous Women is "addictive and tantalizing, each story whetting our appetite for more" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
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