Birds confirms major new fiction talent
BIRDS OF A LESSER PARADISE: Stories. By Megan Mayhew Bergman. Scribner. 224 pages. $24.
Megan Mayhew Bergman is not an unknown quantity. Her stories and short fiction have won numerous awards, featuring prominently in national collections such as “The Best American Short Stories” and “New Stories From the South.”
That said, the poise and pitch-perfect resonance of the 12 pieces selected for her debut collection, “Birds of a Lesser Paradise,” announce a major and surprisingly mature talent.
Comparisons to masters of the short form such as Alice Munro, Raymond Carver and John Cheever no doubt will be forthcoming; and, on the evidence of this collection, they would be deserved.
Complexity of character, and Bergman’s comfort in dealing with it sympathetically, ties each of the stories together, despite each being told from the first-person perspectives of female narrators of widely disparate ages, circumstances and conflicted pasts.
Denouements and neat, tidy endings may be few and far between, but Bergman’s gift rests in finding the subtle, small triumphs and failures that make up the majority of life’s movement, and doing so both lightly and convincingly.
Youth and its myriad seductions reach a point when experience begins to assert itself a touch more forcefully and Bergman’s characters struggle honestly and honorably to see through the charms and comforts of forceful conviction.
Lauren, the narrator of “Yesterday’s Whales,” puts it succinctly, as she finds herself tired of people being so serious about their ideas, especially when those ideas fail not only to capture the imagination but also intangibles altogether more tendentious: emotion, belief and change.
And change, while irrepressibly scary, provides not simply the drive to move on, to move forward, but rather to simply live life, guardedly embracing its squalor and promise of sublimity.
In “Housewifely Arts,” the narrator seeks out her dead mother’s parrot, just to hear, once again, the voice she all too readily ignored in life.
Predictably, she hears nothing, but also realizes that her quest, just like her mother’s obsessive love for the parrot, points up a larger and somehow more comforting truth. “What maniacs we are,” she concludes, “sick with love, all of us.”
That last line would be a fitting epigraph for the entire collection of stories in “Birds of a Lesser Paradise,” as Bergman celebrates the tricky marriage of love and life in a convincing debut.
Reviewer Zach Weir, a writer based in Oxford, Ohio