I have been so well with short story collections recently having just finished Barbara the Slut. Bergman does something very different with her short story collection, but I loved it nonetheless.
While this compilation is a work of fiction, each short story focuses on a real woman from the past and then spins a creative narrative about their lives. The women that Bergman profiles are, as the title suggests, “Almost Famous,” meaning that while they were all quite notable while alive, history has forgotten them. Some of the women featured in these stories I had heard of like Butterfly McQueen, the African American actress famous for her role as Prissy in Gone With the Wind, and many of them had familiar family names; Allegra Byron, Dolly Wilde, and Norma Millay. Many of these women though, I knew nothing about (Joe Carstairs, Hazel Eaton, and Tiny Davis) and found myself completely enthralled by the stories that Bergman told.
Bergman is an amazing storyteller and I found myself lost in her writing. Whit short story collections I normally find that I read one a day, but I completely burned through this collection because I couldn’t get enough. She also did a remarkable amount of research as evidenced by the lengthy appendix to the book and made a real attempt to understand these women’s lives before attempting to create stories about them. One of the things that I liked the most about these stories is that not all of them are told by the characters that they are focused on, but rather are narrated by secondary or outside characters. This narrative style is functional, allowing the author to create profiles of these women without having to be inside their heads, and also compelling as you are drawn to the subjects of the stories as well as the narrators. I loved this collection and can’t praise it highly enough.
Recommended Reading and Listening:
I couldn’t do any better than the appendix that Megan Mayhew Bergman provides everyone with in her book filled with suggestions for further reading.
I have a difficult relationship with short stories, and aside from David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, I have yet to come across a compilation of short stories that I absolutely love. Well I finally found it.
I’m not even quite sure how to explain what makes this collection so great, which is terrible because I’ve decided to review books in my spare time, but it definitely has to do with Holmes’ writing style. She writes in a very candid way with short and snappy sentences never leaving her characters to dwell on a thought for too long. Her writing is very matter-of-fact and often times dripping with sarcasm or irony. Maybe I just loved her writing so much because I feel like I speak in a similar way.
The stories themselves are also all great ranging from the story of a law student with an identity crisis acting as a lesbian to work at a female-positive sex shop, so a woman who falls in love with a Swedish guy who she grows to dislike more and more as he gets attached to her dog Pearl. I feel like short stories seem like they would be easy to write, but are actually in reality quite difficult. It’s easy to come up with the idea for one, but then to create a compelling enough storyline that people actually care about before reaching a satisfying conclusion in a limited number of pages is tough. As with most short story collections, I likes certain stories better than others, but they all hit all the right notes.
I can’t recommend this enough. It’s a short smart and quirky read that you’ll want to lend to your friends so that you can laugh about it together.
I love David Sedaris so much, but I just don’t think any collection will ever be able to top Me Talk Pretty One Day. I’m moving chronologically through his publications, and so far, that one is such a stand out collection. These stories however are still hilarious and I especially love when he talks about his relationship with his sisters. I wish he wrote more about Amy, I’d love to know more about what she was like growing up and as a teenager. My favourite story in this collection was definitely when David Sedaris is working as a house cleaner and is accidentally hired by someone looking for an “erotic housekeeping” service. His stories are funny, but he also exposes the frailty of emotional connections and has some poignant moments, especially when he writes about his partner Hugh. Overall, it’s a collection of short stories by David Sedaris. If you like his other works you’ll like this one also.
Jennifer Egan has does something very unique, creating both a novel meant to be read sequentially, and a collection of short stories that can be read on their own. Regardless of how you choose to proceed with her work, A Visit From the Goon Squad, is masterful in its conception and even more well done in its execution.
The novel follows a group of characters that are all a part of the music scene in New York City ranging from the 1960s to the present day. The two central characters to the stories however are Bennie Salazar, a music producer, and his assistant Sasha. The story does not move chronologically but jumps around in years as well is places with some stories taking place in California and Italy. With the backdrop of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll,” Egan also explores what it means to be happy. While some characters do find their happy endings, many are left in constant pursuit of happiness.
While at the beginning of each story or chapter it is not always clear who is narrating or what relationship that character plays to the rest of the plot, the stories always unfurl beautifully. You often find out what happened to certain characters through the eyes of others in a dynamic and beautifully woven narrative. I loved this book and want to read it again now that I know how different character’s live intersect with each other.