I love a good short story collection, and I especially love a short story collection with some sort of overarching theme that ties the stories together.
Birds of a Lesser Paradise, by Megan Mayhew Bergman, is about lonely people and their animals. That sounds simplistic, and it also sounds scary for those of us who are animal lovers and who always expect the animals to get killed off. Have you noticed that's a thing in books? If an animal takes center stage, that pet is bound to be done away with.
I'm really relieved to report that Bergman doesn't fall into that old trap very often. Sadly, there was one animal death, but it seemed fitting and poetic rather than sensational and standard. The animals in her stories often force the human protagonist into some sort of reflection, action, or serve to push the protagonist toward change.
Not only is this a collection about nature and the role it can play in our lives (re: animals), it's also a collection about our larger individual natures, and finally, human nature. I love it when themes work on a bunch of levels!
One of my favorite selections was the title story, about a woman and her father who go into the North Carolina wilderness in search of an elusive, possibly extinct, woodpecker. While the female protagonist thinks it's a bad idea to undertake the trip, her aging father who believes wholeheartedly that the bird exists, is keen to give it a try. While the trip goes against her better judgement, she allows her feelings for a stranger to overtake her decision making, and everyone pays for it.
In another great story, "Feed an Aye-Aye a Raisin Program at the Lemur Center" an alcoholic t akes a job at her local rescue, which caters to lemurs, aye-ayes, and other such primates. Her husband is gone, her daughter always expects the worst of her after many failed attempts at sobriety, and she turns to the non-judgement of animals at the shelter for companionship. This story was both frustrating and tugged at my heartstrings, something Bergman did often. Sometimes I wanted to shake the central characters, but often that was the job of the animals...to shake things up.
This was a beautifully-written collection, very unique, and it just makes me want more of Megan Mayhew Bergman's writing! I'm looking forward to trying Almost Famous Women.
Pub. Date: March 2012
Source: Received from the author EONS ago!