review, U.S.

Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman

This short story collection teems with birds and other animals, ranging from pet dogs to coyotes and bears, but tending to animals is not the only thread running through this collection.  From the opening story, “Housewifely Arts,” told by the adult daughter of a deceased mother to “Yesterday’s Whales,” told by a newly-pregnant mother, the narrators of these stories grapple with motherhood.  It has a firm grip on these characters’ lives, whatever their ages.  So what’s the connection between animals and motherhood? Maybe it’s something about the urge to procreate being an animal urge?  Maybe it’s  that caring for animals is close to caring for one’s family? Whatever the connection, these stories circle around parent-child relationships and human-animal relationships in interesting ways.

Bergman is very astute about the emotional lives of her characters.  My favorite story in the collection is “Every Vein a Tooth,” the story of a very devoted animal-rescue volunteer with relationship problems.  The story is spot-on emotionally—not that I’m anywhere near as obsessed with rescuing animals as she is.  I also like the fact that this story, as well as most of the others in the collection, takes place in a small town.  The stories do not feel claustrophobic because they primarily take place in different small towns in the eastern half of the United States, from Maine to Florida.  Finally, this collection does not suffer from the “vague epiphany,” issue that I find in some short story endings.  The endings of these stories feel earned,but even so, I’d love to see some of these stories developed into novels.

Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Scribner
Publication date: March 6, 2012
Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

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