Synopses & Reviews
From a prizewinning young writer whose stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and New Stories from the South comes a heartwarming and hugely appealing debut collection that explores the way our choices and relationships are shaped by the menace and beauty of the natural world.
Megan Mayhew Bergman’s twelve stories capture the surprising moments when the pull of our biology becomes evident, when love or fear collide with good sense, or when our attachment to an animal or wild place can’t be denied. In “Housewifely Arts,” a single mother and her son drive hours to track down an African Gray Parrot that can mimic her deceased mother’s voice. A population control activist faces the ultimate conflict between her loyalty to the environment and her maternal desire in “Yesterday’s Whales.” And in the title story, a lonely naturalist allows an attractive stranger to lead her and her aging father on a hunt for an elusive woodpecker.
As intelligent as they are moving, the stories in Birds of a Lesser Paradise are alive with emotion, wit, and insight into the impressive power that nature has over all of us.
"Bergman's stellar debut is set among the dense forests and swamps of her native North Carolina and rooted firmly in a crumbling and economically troubled post-crash America. These 12 short stories, all but two of which were published in journals like One Story, Ploughshares, and Narrative (and anthologized in the Best American and New Stories from the South series), may be tethered to familiar Southern gothic tropes, but Bergman deftly sidesteps clichÃ© and sentimentality, using honest autobiographical moments to make her work unique (like Yannick Murphy (The Call), Bergman's husband is a veterinarian, a character that appears in several stories). Reflections on the natural world, animals both domestic and wild, family, and death figure prominently as motifs. In the title story, a young woman who lives with her father in backwoods North Carolina confronts her loneliness and her father's mortality when an attractive stranger engages them to help find a woodpecker believed to be extinct. While Bergman's tone is melancholic, a sense of possibility and rebirth figures prominently. 'Six times he'd eaten a sock. Five times it had come out the other side, worse for wear, composted,' says the narrator of 'The Two-Thousand-Dollar Sock,' a struggling new mother whose dog survives the sock only to take on a bear desperate for a taste of honey. Bergman writes straightforward, elegant prose that dovetails nicely with swampy Americana, and possesses a great facility for off-kilter observations. A woman in 'Housewifely Arts' learns the details of her mother's mourning for her dead husband from a parrot, and worries after her own child: 'The things my body has done to him, I think. Cancer genes, hay fever, high blood pressure, perhaps a fear of math these are my gifts.' Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Birds of a Lesser Paradise
is an astonishing debut collection, by a writer reminiscent of such greats as Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout and even Chekhov. Expertly delivered, Bergman's stories bloom from the minutiae of life. They confirm the inescapable power that nature--and our own biology--has over us.”
– Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
"Megan Mayhew Bergman apparently possesses, all in one sensibility, Ralph Waldo Emerson's love of a back-to-the-land self-sufficiency, Amy Hempel's infinite tenderness towards animals, and Tillie Olsen's fierce sense of the emotional intensities of motherhood.
“A big-hearted collection of stories—each one a precise and compassionate study of human life, the changes and obstacles—all carefully housed under the miracles and marvels of nature. Megan Mayhew Bergman is a brilliantly gifted writer who recognizes and highlights life's fragilities in a way that will leave your heart aching while also finding those bits of hilarity and absurdity that bring uniqueness to each and every creature.”
– Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes
"I predict that astronomers will soon be renaming the star Sirius to Megan Mayhew Bergman.
"Bergman's excellent stories are hard-earned and well-honed. Her characters speak as if their very lives depend upon getting it right, getting it down, facing the toughest stuff that tumbles down with equal toughness and enduring resilience. A very fine and impressive debut."
–Brad Watson, author of Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives
"Readers will be shocked, amazed, and always entertained by the work of this accomplished writer of short fiction." --Booklist
“Megan Mayhew Bergman apparently possesses, all in one sensibility, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s love of a back-to-the-land self-sufficiency, Amy Hempel’s infinite tenderness towards animals, and Tillie Olsen’s fierce sense of the emotional intensities of motherhood. Birds of a Lesser Paradise
features characters who, even understanding it as well as they do, want to mother the world, and their stories are rendered with dazzling compassion, intelligence, and grace.”
– Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad
“I predict that astronomers will soon be renaming the star Sirius to Megan Mayhew Bergman. Birds of a Lesser Paradise
offers us a spectacular new voice in the world of American short fiction. The characters in these stories—each one—perform as beacons on who we are and how we should act, all without pretense or exhortation. This is a first-rate collection.”
—George Singleton, author of The Half-Mammals of Dixie
"A top-notch debut... that deserves big praise. The beginning, one suspects, of a fine career." --Kirkus
Exploring the way our choices and relationships are shaped by the menace and beauty of the natural world, Megan Mayhew Bergmans powerful and heartwarming collection captures the surprising moments when the pull of our biology becomes evident, when love or fear collide with good sense, or when our attachment to an animal or wild place cant be denied.
In “Housewifely Arts,” a single mother and her son drive hours to track down an African gray parrot that can mimic her deceased mothers voice. A population-control activist faces the ultimate conflict between her loyalty to the environment and her maternal desire in “Yesterdays Whales.” And in the title story, a lonely naturalist allows an attractive stranger to lead her and her aging father on a hunt for an elusive woodpecker.
As intelligent as they are moving, the stories in Birds of a Lesser Paradise are alive with emotion, wit, and insight into the impressive power that nature has over all of us. This extraordinary collection introduces a young writer of remarkable talent.
About the Author
Megan Mayhew Bergman grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and attended Wake Forest University. She has graduate degrees from Duke University and Bennington College. Her first collection, Birds of a Lesser Paradise, was one of Huffington Post's Best Books of 2012. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Best American Short Stories, New Stories from the South, Ploughshares, Tin House, and Oxford American, among other publications. She writes a sustainability column for Salon and lives on a small farm in Vermont with her veterinarian husband, two daughters, four dogs, four cats, goats, and chickens.