It’s rare that a book’s title tells you exactly what it is about. There are almost always secrets, or even outright lies. I mean, Fight Club is about so much more than a bunch of bros beating each other up, and Gone Girl — what the hell does that even tell you? In this regard, Almost Famous Women: Stories is a different kind of book.
Megan Mayhew Bergman‘s collection of short historical fictions centers on a vibrant cast of misfit women, but their stories are often told by others, who are connected to them only for the span of the vignette. Such is the case when Bergman turns to Almost Famous Women‘s most compelling story, “Saving Butterfly McQueen.”
This story, the eighth in Bergman’s book, involves a medical student who recalls a fateful meeting with the actress in the summer of 1994. In love with her youth minister and determined to please him, the teenage narrator attempts to convert atheist McQueen to Christianity. Along the way, she learns that the old woman intends to donate her body to science. Meanwhile, the narrator gives us plenty of details on McQueen’s relationship with her most famous role: Prissy in Gone with the Wind.
The other stories in Almost Famous Women follow this same formula. An unnamed nun narrates “The Autobiography of Allegra Byron,” and a lover called Georgie details the breakneck life of Joe Carstairs in “The Siege at Whale Cay.” In both of these stories, the Almost Famous Woman in question is related to much more prominent figures — Lord Byron and Marlene Dietrich, respectively — but readers hear her tale told by an outsider who has been ignored by history.
Of course, that’s the joke. The only way for Bergman to revive these women is to make them works of fiction.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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