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Friday, January 16, 2015

Review: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Almost Famous Women
Megan Mayhew Bergman
Scribner, 2015
Biographical Fiction

Review by Debrah Lechner.

Almost Famous Women, as the title promises, delivers entertaining, touching, and very absorbing short stories based on the lives of women who in their time found a marginal fame, were written about, talked about, and seen, but then were almost lost to history, almost forgotten, and almost became invisible.

This is a fate most of us will share, to one degree or another, sooner or later, and it’s the root of what make these stories powerful. By restoring the lives of these extraordinary, if not immortal, women, Bergman invokes meaning into all our lives.

The breadth of examination into the meaning of women’s lives is striking. The book begins with the story “The Pretty, Grown-Together Children,” the story of conjoined twins. Surely there could never be a more intimate relationship than this─sharing a single body with another person for the entire length of existence. Bergman takes her time exploring what it means to be a woman who is bound to another in such a circumstance, a circumstance which defines her world. What is left of self and world when these two women are literally separated by death is the question that haunts the end of this story.

Toward the end of Almost Famous Women, there is a little gem of a short story, “The Internees,” only five spare paragraphs, about the women found in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. A section of this camp became the “women’s camp,” and Anne Frank was one of the women who died there shortly before the camp was liberated. The story is told in the voice of the newly liberated women, who had been denied both their individuality and their humanity.

There was a box of expired lipstick that came off the truck. The British soldiers opened the box and threw tubes of lipstick at the crowd, and we wanted it─we were surprised at how badly we wanted it… We had pink wax on our rotten teeth. We were human again. We were women.

Yes, there is a great humor in these stories, as well, and inspiration, and a great deal to simply engage and satisfy curiosity. But the great accomplishment of this collection, and one not to be missed, is in the insistence that every life is an historic event.

Megan Mayhew Bergman is also the author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, which was one of Huffington’s Post’s Best Books of 2012. She writes a sustainability column for Solon.

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