almost famous women
It's a beautiful cover but bears little relation to many of the women featured in the stories inside.
I can't imagine M.B. "Joe" Carstairs or Hazel Marion Eaton Watkins wandering around in pretty gowns.
And if you don't know who these women are, you would be well served by reading this collection of short stories about almost famous women.
My God, this is a fascinating collection, and well represented by Meyhew Bergman's fantastic writing.
The stories are fictional, but about real-life women who didn't rise to be wholly famous, usually due to the times in which they lived but also often due to being overshadowed by others, such as Dolly Wilde, the niece of Oscar Wilde.
I couldn't make it halfway through the first story - told from the first person perspective of one half of a set of conjoined twins - without googling the twins to see if they were real. Reading the subsequent stories, I held off googling until I reached the end of the story, but did so with almost every single one.
This collection is eclectic. The time periods range from the early 19th century to the 1970's. The point-of-view choices range from first person protagonist of the woman the story is about to third person from her girlfriend's vantage point, to third person of a caregiver. Sometimes the story is about the woman at the pinnacle of the story she's most known for; sometimes it's far removed from the glory. Sometimes we learn much more about the character who provides the point of view, even if they're not the almost-famous woman the story is about. There are short stories dozens of pages long while others are only brief glimpses.
Although some of the characters involved in these women's stories, or the actions that take place in the stories, may be completely imagined, their purpose is to illuminate the almost-famous woman. Photographs are shared at the beginning of each story and they're almost as fascinating as the stories themselves. In my advanced galley, provided by Scribner, there's an afterward by the author explaining her inspirations for each woman included in the collection, and I hope this is included in the final publication.
There was only one story here that felt off to me, though one could easily view it as a cleverly alternate way of telling the story, which the author plays around with quite a bit. All of the other stories are about the famous woman herself, whether she is the protagonist or being viewed by another character. In The Lottery, Redux, instead of telling a story about Shirley Jackson, Mayhew Bergman retells The Lottery in a sort of homage to the author. I enjoyed the story, and it was a nicely different format, but based on the earlier stories, I was very confused about what was happening; was she telling some other woman's story in an alternate setting of The Lottery (I googled a couple of the women's names, trying to find someone about whom this made sense)? It wasn't until I read Mayhew Bergman's afterward that I better understood.
I often have this ridiculous preconceived prejudice concerning projects oscillating around a theme, which is ludicrous because my creative brainstorming often tends towards this as well. I think it's that I worry about different elements being shoehorned to one overriding focus. If you have this same concern, please let me reassure you that this isn't the case here. Each story may be about an almost-famous woman but each stands strong, unique, and fascinating, just as the women themselves. Their stories are inspiring, appalling, depressing, infuriating, and memorable. I would love to read the expanded biographies (some of which exist) of many of the women in this collection.
Slated for publication January 6th, 2015.