Almost Famous Women
The fascinating characters in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “collection of stories as beautiful and strange as the women who inspired them” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) are defined by their creative impulses, fierce independence, and sometimes reckless decisions. In “The Siege at Whale Cay,” cross-dressing Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs seduces Marlene Dietrich. In “A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down for Lunch,” aviator and writer Beryl Markham lives alone in Nairobi and engages in a battle of wills with a stallion. In “Hell-Diving Women,” the first integrated, all-girl swing band sparks a violent reaction in North Carolina.
Other heroines, born in proximity to the spotlight, struggle to distinguish themselves: Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s wild niece, Dolly; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s talented sister, Norma; James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia. Almost Famous Women offers an elegant and intimate look at artists who desired recognition. “By assiduously depicting their intimacy and power struggles, Bergman allows for a close examination of the multiplicity of women’s experiences” (The New York Times Book Review).
The world wasn’t always kind to the women who star in these stories, but through Mayhew Bergman’s stunning imagination, they receive the attention they deserve. Almost Famous Women is “addictive and tantalizing, each story whetting our appetite for more” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Reading Group Guide
In this collection of brilliantly written and cleverly imagined stories, Megan Mayhew Bergman brings to life women who have become footnotes in history. Fiercely independent, frequently eccentric, they are women who chose unconventional paths and achieved fame, however briefly. The stories in Almost Famous Women explore the choices these women made and the costs of their bravery and recklessness.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In “The Pretty, Grown-Together Children,” how is Daisy’s insistence that she narrate the story and Violet’s acquiescence representative of the sisters’ relationship?
2. Discuss Georgie’s perception of her relationship with Joe Carstairs in “The Siege at Whale Cay.” In what ways does Marlene’s visit cast doubts? Given Georgie’s understanding that “life with Joe never lasts” (p. 33), why does she remain on Whale Cay? What do you imagine Georgie’s future holds?
3. Why is Nor see more