Summary and book reviews of Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Birds of a Lesser Paradise

Stories

by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Birds of a Lesser Paradise
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2012, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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.

Excerpt
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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How much of a role does nature play in the lives of the heroines of Mayhew Bergman's stories? How do their relationships with the natural world affect their decisions?


  2. Whether it is an African Gray parrot or a lemur, animals are central to each of these stories. How do the characters identify with or distinguish themselves from animals? Do any of the characters share certain qualities with the animals described?


  3. In "Housewifely Arts," what did her mother's parrot represent to the narrator while her mother was still alive? How did the parrot's importance change after her mother passed away?


  4. How did you react to the veterinarian husband in "The Cow That Milked Herself" examining his pregnant wife in the same way he examines ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

The collection's second half doesn't quite measure up to the level of the first, but that's a minor flaw in a book that deserves big praise. The beginning, one suspects, of a fine career.

Booklist

Readers will be shocked, amazed, and always entertained by the work of this accomplished writer of short fiction.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bergman's stellar debut is set among the dense forests and swamps of her native North Carolina and rooted firmly in a crumbling and economically troubled post-crash America. (Pick of the Week)

Library Journal

This is an immensely appealing collection with a rare clarity and cohesion and the capacity to appeal to a wide-ranging audience, including readers who may generally eschew the genre.

Author Blurb Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
Birds of a Lesser Paradise is an astonishing debut collection, by a writer reminiscent of such greats as Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout and even Chekhov. Expertly delivered, Bergman's stories bloom from the minutiae of life. They confirm the inescapable power that nature - and our own biology - has over us.

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Beyond the Book

Human Population Control

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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