In her second story collection, Bergman tells the forgotten tales of women hovering on the edges of history.
From Allegra Byron, the poet's illegitimate daughter, to Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece, this book collects notable women whose lives have been forgotten. As the protagonist of "Who Killed Dolly Wilde?" muses, “[m]aybe the world had been bad to its great and unusual women”—and Bergman seeks to rectify this by bringing their glories and sorrows sharply to life. The tales focus on the characters' changed lives after near-fame and are often narrated by ancillary characters, creating uniquely observant perspectives. In various settings—lavish but morgue-quiet bedrooms, cheerless Italian convents, remote islands—the women deal with their trials large and small. In "The Autobiography of Allegra Byron," a nun struggles as 4-year-old Allegra pines for her famous father, who never visits the convent where she lives despite her constant letters and worsening illness. "The Siege at Whale Cay" finds Joe Carstairs, the fastest woman on water, lording over her own private island but suffering from post-traumatic stress after serving as an ambulance driver in World War II. And Romaine Brooks, a formerly famous artist who hasn’t painted in 40 years, spits constant, bitter orders at her servant, Mario—until he turns the tables in the final, mesmerizing paragraphs of "Romaine Remains." "The Internees," though more snapshot than story, provides a vivid and moving account of the women of Bergen-Belsen accepting boxes of expired lipstick during their camp’s liberation: “We had pink wax on our rotten teeth. We were human again. We were women.” Though some stories seem to reveal more about their fictional narrators than about the women themselves, this gives the collection a unified feel and helps readers see how little the public has understood about these women and their genius. Only "The Lottery, Redux," a spinoff of the Shirley Jackson tale, seems obviously symbolic and mars this otherwise original and surprising collection.
A collection of stories as beautiful and strange as the women who inspired them.