From a prizewinning young writer whose stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and New Stories from the South comes a heartwarming and hugely appealing debut collection that explores the way our choices and relationships are shaped by the menace and beauty of the natural world.
Megan Mayhew Bergman's twelve stories capture the surprising moments when the pull of our biology becomes evident, when love or fear collide with good sense, or when our attachment to an animal or wild place can't be denied. In "Housewifely Arts," a single mother and her son drive hours to track down an African Gray Parrot that can mimic her deceased mother's voice. A population control activist faces the ultimate conflict between her loyalty to the environment and her maternal desire in "Yesterday's Whales." And in the title story, a lonely naturalist allows an attractive stranger to lead her and her aging father on a hunt for an elusive woodpecker.
As intelligent as they are moving, the stories in Birds of a Lesser Paradise are alive with emotion, wit, and insight into the impressive power that nature has over all of us.
Birds of a Lesser Paradise
I fell for Smith the day my father hit his first hole-in-one on his homemade golf course. Dad had spent years shaping the earth in our backyard until he had two holes that landed somewhere
between an extravagant minigolf spread and a Jack Nicklaus par-72.
Mae! my father yelled, hoisting his nine-iron into the air. I did it!
He was a couple hundred yards away, and because I didn't think my voice would carry, I jumped up and down a few times and clapped my hands, trying to appear visibly thrilled. But I was self-conscious with Smith standing behind me, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his army-green cargo pants, an anxious scowl on his almost beautiful face.
Dad sauntered off to pluck the winning ball from the hole, long, white beard trailing in the wind, his spaniel, Betsy, two steps behind. It was hardly fifty degrees out, but Dad was wearing shorts and hiking boots. He was nearing seventy, but he had the bulging calf muscles of a man ...
I haven't read a collection this deeply affecting and, for lack of a better word, real, since Alan Heathcock's Volt, and before that, it had been a long time since a short story stunned me into submission with its humanity. Yes, humanity. Bergman's stories are swarming with nature - with oceans, wildlife, biology, the whole mess of planet Earth - but their real strength comes from how they're always able to distill it down, again and again, to us: our own, singular, one-shot human lives, and the people we share them with.
(Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor).
Full Review (1168 words).
In Bergman's story "Yesterday's Whales," Lauren faces a tough decision when she discovers she's pregnant. Lauren and her boyfriend Malachi are proponents of "voluntary human extermination," and as such have signed a "No Breeding Pledge." Malachi, in fact, is the founder of a non-profit called Enough with Us, a population control organization modeled after the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT), a group that proposes to "Phase out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed," so that "Earth's biosphere can return to good health."
When we think about human population control in contemporary times, we usually think of government intervention into human reproduction, like China's one-child policy. But since the 1960s, the human...
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