Bookshelf Project 2016: #6: Almost Famous Women
The idea of this book of short stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman intrigued me, so I picked it up on a whim during a trip to Papercuts when they didn’t have the Ferrante novel I was looking for at the time. (I’m pretty much incapable of going in that store and leaving without buying anything.)
For this collection, Mayhew Bergman examined women on the fringes of fame, women you’ve probably never heard of, and imagined what their lives were like. There’s a pair of conjoined twins, a boater named Joe who owns and commands a small island, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister Norma, Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter Allegra, and Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s doppelganger niece. Most of the women in the stories were outcasts of their time, outsiders who dared to succeed and compete and live outside of the confines society had created for women of the time. Most of them are also deeply troubled and unlikable, ravaged by drugs and power and poverty and fame.
The stories made me want to learn more about these women and I loved the idea of exploring these lives we never hear about, lives forgotten by the onslaught of history. But I have to admit that there was something gimmicky about this kind of writing. I felt the same way about stories in the Mary Gordon collection The Liar’s Wife. It almost seemed like a writing prompt you would complete in a writing class. And I love that kind of writing–I do it myself. However, a book full of these kinds of stories didn’t feel completely honest to me in some way. Like the author was trying to hide behind these real lives.
For me, the stories themselves were hit or miss, but I did enjoy a few of them, and the idea felt fresh enough to me to give it a fair shake.