Kirkus Reviews QR Code
BIRDS OF A LESSER PARADISE by Megan Mayhew Bergman


by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Pub Date: March 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4335-0
Publisher: Scribner

From a young Southern writer of note, a top-notch debut collection of stories, most of them revolving around motherhood, animals and conflicting loyalties.

Stories from Bergman’s collection have appeared in Best American Short Stories and New Stories from the South, as well as in major literary magazines, and it’s easy to see why. In the luminous opener, “Housewifely Arts,” a single mom drives her 7-year-old son nine hours south to a roadside zoo near Myrtle Beach in hopes of hearing one last time her mother’s voice...or rather the perfect mimicry of that voice by the 36-year-old African gray parrot who had to be given away in the mother's dotage. In “The Cow That Milked Herself,” a young mother-to-be gets an ultrasound in the office of her husband, a loving but distracted and harried veterinarian. “Yesterday’s Whales” dramatizes a woman’s ambivalence—or perhaps better to say that she grapples with her surprising lack of ambivalence—when she discovers that she is pregnant by her boyfriend, a fellow population-control activist and the leader of an anti-reproduction collective called Enough With Us that fulminates against unthinking, selfish “breeders.” In “Every Vein a Tooth,” a woman who shelters refugee animals (feral cats, a one-eyed chinchilla, three injured and ancient golden retrievers, a declawed raccoon) watches helplessly as her boyfriend, a hunter and outdoorsman, drifts away. His parting words come when she agrees to take into her home the ravenous, foul-smelling sheep of an urban shepherd: “You are looking for things to put between us.” The woman’s response is typical of the tender, smart, hard-nosed heroines of Bergman’s tales: “Maybe it was true.” But recognizing that doesn't change either her conviction or her decision—pained, hard-won, but hers—to carry on as she always has, no matter the human consequences. The collection’s second half doesn’t quite measure up to the level of the first, but that’s a minor flaw in a book that deserves big praise.

The beginning, one suspects, of a fine career.