‘Almost Famous Women’ by Megan Mayhew Bergman

April 2, 2015 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

510U5plEk6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women was disappointing to me. I chose it because the premise sounded ripe and fascinating — fictionalized biographies of interesting women who time and history forgot. Bergman’s stories run through time, intersecting and diverging with each other while jumping through narrators.

By the end of the book, I expected to have learned new snippets about interesting historical women. Instead, I found myself somewhat numbed by the book and vaguely dissatisfied.

But I think this lack of satisfaction was actually part of Bergman’s plan. In her afterword, she writes, “the world has not always been kind to its unusual women.” This is both sad and true and Bergman’s story collection ends up feeling the same way. I finished the stories and felt somewhat let down. Not as a reader, but as a woman. These are not happy stories about exceptional women defying convention. These are hard stories of women “whose remarkable lives were reduced to footnotes.” They never got their due in life and don’t receive it now, even in fictionalized form.

This isn’t to say that the stories aren’t well done. On the contrary, Bergman has a remarkable ability to create a time and place within a few short sentences. It’s a necessary skill for the short story writer, but not one that everyone manages to attain. Further, despite Bergman claiming she isn’t comfortable writing historical fiction, her characters are entirely fully-formed and historically accurate. For a historical fiction novice, she does an excellent job of evoking the space and the mindset of her characters.

I’m not sure I would recommend this collection, but it is certainly a thought-provoking statement on the way history has treated women. For good or bad, women’s history can often veer into the “women have been awesome, but ignored, throughout history!” while ignoring the darker side of the historic marginalization of women: the plain truth that, most often, they were treated poorly. They were ignored. And they never had a chance to make their mark one way or the other. Bergman’s stories take on this perspective and force readers to confront their own discomfort. These are not happy stories, or even inspirational stories. Mostly, they’re just sad stories. And that may be closer to the truth than anything.


Entry filed under: Biography, Historical Fiction. Tags: , , , .

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