Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories, by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Short stories are consistently underestimated; they can pack a huge emotional punch due to their truncated nature, but there is often no "pay off," in the sense that there is rarely a nice little denouement for the reader to enjoy. Bergman's stories are all like this - they are snapshots in people's lives, sometimes at pivotal moments and sometimes as a window into another person's existence. There are strong animal and motherhood themes (Bergman is a mother and her husband is a veterinarian) and the stories all take place in the northern Southern states (e.g. North Carolina) or New England (Bergman's birthplace and current home, respectively).

These stories are quietly lyrical, and the animals are described especially lovingly. A consistent theme seems to be that the caretaking love of a mother (for either child or animal) is a stronger tie than the romantic love between two people. The eponymous story is especially good, and reminds us, along with the penultimate story, that children often become caretakers in turn. Bergman is a wonderful writer and these are wonderful stories, and I would be interested to read any longer fiction she writes to see how she works with these themes in long-form.


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