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About The Book

“Dazzling.” —The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
“Richly satisfying.” —The Wall Street Journal
“These are stories you want to live in…a collection perfectly suited for our moment.” —Booklist (starred review)

A collection of stories “so beautifully crafted they feel like tiny worlds unto themselves” (Los Angeles Times) about women experiencing all life’s beauty and challenges, from award-winning writer Megan Mayhew Bergman.

A recently separated woman fills a huge terrarium with rare flowers to establish control over a small world and attempt to heal her broken heart. A competitive swimmer negotiates over which days she will fulfill her wifely duties, and which days she will keep for herself. A peach farmer wonders if her orchard will survive a drought. And generations of a family in South Carolina struggle with fidelity and their cruel past, some clinging to old ways and others painfully carving new paths.

In this “closely observed” (The New Yorker) collection, Megan Mayhew Bergman portrays women who wrestle with problematic inheritances: a modern glass house on a treacherous California cliff, a water-starved ranch, and an abandoned plantation on a river near Charleston. “Bergman’s stories are so emotionally rich that they serve as portals into distinct interior worlds...this collection is distinct and vivid...As singular as it is atmospheric” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for HOW STRANGE A SEASON includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

How Strange a Season is a collection of stories and a novella that feature women facing the pressures of problematic inheritances. A competitive swimmer negotiates with her husband over which days she will perform her wifely duties and which she will keep for herself. A woman moves into her late grandmother’s glass house on a California cliff, only to uncover a different legacy of the family matriarch than she expected. A young environmentalist takes a job with a conservation organization and tries to distract herself from the worry that her partner will fall for someone else while she’s away. And generations of a South Carolina family reckon with the sins of their past while struggling toward a better future.

These haunting, evocative stories ask: What are we leaving behind for our descendants? What price will they pay for our mistakes? And how do we break free from the generational patterns we’ve inherited to live life on our own terms?

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Discuss how the women in these stories interact with the natural world—flowers and fruit, heavy rains and drought, lionfish and cattle, and more. How do they deal with nature’s challenges, and how do they respond to its beauty? Where do the themes of inheritance and environmental concerns intersect?

2. In “Workhorse,” the narrator says of her father: “His love language was war” (p. 3). Consider the conflicts between various characters in the story—the narrator and her father, or her father and mother, her father and his brother, herself and her ex-husband. Amidst all this conflict, where does the narrator find peace? Why does she go to Caligari?

3. “There are unsaid rules,” Farrah tells her husband in “Wife Days” (p. 31). Discuss what those rules are—marital roles, social expectations, etc. What do you think of Farrah’s method of coping with them? Do you find yourself subject to unsaid rules, and how do you handle them?

3. Discuss the theme of power in “The Heirloom,” which features heavy machinery and privileged men looking for a new kind of fulfillment. Who wields power, and what do they do with it? What, in the end, is the most powerful force in the story?

4. In “The Inheritance,” Hayes moves into a glass house in California left to her by her late grandmother, whom she idolized from afar. What she learns there leads her to think, “You never really know anyone” (p. 86). Do you agree? What do you think of Hayes’s mother’s warning that “you can only idolize someone you don’t know very well” (p. 70)?

5. Discuss Ward’s atonement ritual in “A Taste for Lionfish.” What are other ways to seek forgiveness for the wrongs our ancestors committed against people and the environment?

6. In “Peaches, 1979,” Darcy’s mother calls her out for having a bit of a savior complex (p. 134). Do Darcy’s actions actually help anyone? Do the people she wants to save want to be saved? Discuss the final line, where Darcy wonders: “Just how wrong would it be to save myself? . . . and only myself?” (p. 135).

7. In “Indigo Run,” Skip refuses to sell, rent, or renovate the abandoned family plantation she inherited, despite protest from the local Preservation Society. What is she afraid will happen to the place if she does? How would you describe the relationships the other characters have with the land, such as Mary-Grace, Helena, Win, and Marie?

8. Consider the quote: “The only real risk we have in this life is our reputation” (p. 161). How does reputation shape the lives of the characters in “Indigo Run,” for better or worse?

9. Compare the choices that Helena and Marie make out of desperation, and their resulting situations. Who is the wronged woman? What is your opinion of Win? How does desperation affect the lives of other women in How Strange a Season?

10. After Skip is born, Helena asks her mother why she didn’t warn her about what childbirth and motherhood would be like. “No one told me, either,” Mary-Grace says (p. 182). What does this scene tell you about their relationship? On page 186, Helena tells baby Skip, “I will raise you to be stronger than I ever was.” How does their relationship compare to Helena and Mary-Grace’s? What patterns from these relationships apply to all mothers and daughters?

11. Consider this passage from the end of “Indigo Run”: “[Skip] knew that she carried the sins of her parents and grandparents around in her blood, something parasitic living there against her will” (p. 273). How do characters in the novella—and throughout the collection—reckon with this type of legacy? How does this passage resonate with conversations around race and privilege in society today?

12. Discuss “The Night Hag” in relation to the rest of the collection. Where does women’s anger rise to the surface? What effect does it have? How has rage affected your life, the life of someone you know, or the world at large?

13. Several stories in this collection follow a woman who has inherited something from a relative—a ranch, a glass house, an abandoned plantation. How does each woman manage her inheritance? In “The Heirloom,” the author writes that Regan has also “inherited her mother’s suspicion that at some point relationships with men moved from pleasure to pain” (p. 61). What nonmaterial things do we inherit from our mothers, our aunts, our grandmothers?

15. How do you interpret the collection’s title? Discuss the idea of a “season” as it applies to the climate and to a stage of life.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Pick an activity inspired by one of the stories to do as a group: create mini terrariums (“Workhorse”), visit a “rage room” where you can smash things (“The Heirloom”), volunteer with a conservation organization (“A Taste for Lionfish”), or pick fruit at a local orchard (“Peaches, 1979”).

2. Map out a family tree for the characters in “Indigo Run” and see if you can find any possible connections to characters from other stories in the collection. Consider doing some genealogical research on your own family.

3. Read Clint Smith’s nonfiction book How the Word Is Passed, which explores how the legacy of slavery is communicated (or miscommunicated) at historic sites and monuments. How do the themes of preservation and heritage in this book reflect themes from “Indigo Run” and “A Taste for Lionfish”?

4. Read Megan Mayhew Bergman’s previous two collections of stories, Birds of a Lesser Paradise and Almost Famous Women, and discuss the evolution of themes throughout.

About The Author

Photograph by Nina Subin

Megan Mayhew Bergman is the author of Almost Famous Women and Birds of a Lesser Paradise. Her short fiction has appeared in two volumes of The Best American Short Stories and on NPR’s Selected Shorts. She has written columns on climate change and the natural world for The Guardian and The Paris Review. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The New YorkerTin HousePloughsharesOxford AmericanOrion, and elsewhere. She teaches literature and environmental writing at Middlebury College, where she also serves as director of the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference. She lives on a small farm in Vermont.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (March 29, 2022)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476713106

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Raves and Reviews

"Stories so beautifully crafted they feel like tiny worlds unto themselves." —LA Times

“Dazzling. . . . a collection of horror stories couched in the glittering worlds of privilege. . . . The women who haunt these pages — former beauties, former athletes, formerly full of potential — have been kneecapped by the patriarchy." —Samantha HuntNew York Times Book Review, Editor's Pick

“Nature, in Ms. Bergman’s telling, is wondrous but barbed, bearing the curses of love’s betrayals. . . . richly satisfying.” —Wall Street Journal

"Closely observed. . . . climate change looms, but casting darker shadows are the book’s many absent or inadequate parents." —The New Yorker

"Engrossing stories about subjection, responsibility, and growth." —Shondaland

"Bergman builds poignant scenarios big and small, from a woman building a terrarium of rare flowers as a heartbreak cure to a peach farmer battling drought."  —Thrillist

“Beautifully crafted stories about strong memorable women wrestling with their histories—both the ones they have chosen and those inherited from society.” —Ploughshares

"Bergman’s characters are unfailingly human—steeped in paradox and grace—and her new collection is pensive, playful, and ambitious. . . . Bergman is a sensitive, essential writer." —The Millions

"Bergman's fiction is full of smart, vulnerable people struggling with love and preoccupied by power." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“The women in How Strange A Season—strong-willed activists, artists, and athletes—have footholds in the past and the future. . . . Climate change lurks like a specter, though not ornamentally; Bergman is a gifted, observant scribe of the natural world.” —Indy Week

“Imaginative and compelling. . . . women of all sorts populate this book: artists, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, and environmentalists, each realistic in strange and memorable ways.” —Brooklyn Rail

"Bergman’s stories are so emotionally rich that they serve as portals into distinct interior worlds. . . . this collection is distinct and vivid, each story burrowing inside the reader’s brain to leave an indelible mark. As singular as it is atmospheric." Kirkus (starred review)

"These are stories you want to live in. . . . In a collection perfectly suited for our moment, Bergman examines what remains of what was given to us and suggests how we might move on as the world continues to change around us." —Booklist (starred review)

"Mayhew Bergman is one of the best authors out there for chronicling our tangled, intimate, complicated relationship to the natural world; her elegant, lyrical prose documents an evolving crisis and our incorrigibly human responses to it." —Lit Hub 

"An alluring collection centered on women grappling with their circumstances. . . . Bergman emboldens her characters with wit and a shimmering sense of self-awareness. Her attention to details is uncanny. . . . Though alienated from the lives they either once enjoyed or from the futures they yearn for, the characters demonstrate immense mettle. Bergman’s fans will savor each story.” —Publishers Weekly

"An extraordinary, unnerving, and beautiful book. Bergman writes with preternatural wisdom, delivering urgent stories of radical independence and toughness in a world on fire. Like the women who helm them, these stories are ornery and fierce—ready for battle, their teeth filed to points." Rebecca Makkai, Pulitzer finalist for The Great Believers

“Heartfelt, rich in character and detail, the stories in How Strange a Season feel both modern and timeless.” —Jeff VanderMeer, author of Borne

“A gorgeous collection featuring strong women, or women on their way to becoming strong, often while aiming to do some good. There is an atmosphere here—a kind of skewed quality that makes many of these stories disquieting. And that a storied Southern home could be cursed instead of blessed—this kind of overturned belief abounds in these beautifully written stories.” —Amy Hempel, author of Sing to It

"This is a remarkable collection about women reckoning with the past and insistently forging a future in an often unforgiving, confusing and exacting world. Like all of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s work, How Strange A Season is heart-forward, keen-eyed, haunting, and wonderfully satisfying.” —Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, author of Good Company

“These are extraordinary stories. They'll make you think deeply, maybe uncomfortably, always interestingly.” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature 

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