Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Birds of a Lesser Paradise: StoriesBirds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got a review copy of this audiobook from the publisher. I wasn't sure what to expect; I was new to the author (this is her first book, although she has previously published short stories) and had no expectations. The book came out in print in March 2012, but the audiobook was new in November.

The title is apropos - while the stories aren't about birds exactly, most of them do seem to include animals in some way - many birds, but also ferrets, dogs, sheep, cats, even a chinchilla.

The author is at her strongest when she writes about relationships, particularly when they have failed because of issues the people can't control - death, disease, savior complex, you name it. The most powerful story to me was the first one - Housewifely Arts - that tells the story of a woman and her young son, driving to visit her deceased mother's bird, just to hear her voice one more time. Wow. I will remember it for a long time. It also takes place in a city that I know well on the coast of South Carolina, which also brought it to life.

Yesterday's Whales demonstrates what happens when your life deters from your Values, while Every Vein a Tooth demonstrates what can happen when you stick to them. Both are heartbreaking and memorable. The Right Company, with the weird salve of the obese food writer, is one story with unique, super southern characters.

The Artificial Heart was probably my least favorite story, because the vision it attempts of a post-fish dystopic Florida was not quite as successful as the painful realities of the other stories.

Most of the stories are set in the south, which is where Bergman grew up, with one set in Vermont where she lives now. The stories are read by Cassandra Campbell, who does a great job with subtle changes in accents, vocal tone, and pacing. (I've heard her before, as one of the readers for the Cloud Atlas audiobook.)

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