The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity - she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde's troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.
|Product dimensions:||6.04(w) x 5.04(h) x 1.13(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Megan Mayhew Bergman grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and attended Wake Forest University. She has graduate degrees from Duke University and Bennington College. Her first collection, Birds of a Lesser Paradise, was one of Huffington Post's Best Books of 2012. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Best American Short Stories, New Stories from the South, Ploughshares, Tin House, and Oxford American, among other publications.
Lesa Lockford is an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at Bowling Green State University. She teaches courses in voice for the actor, dialects, acting, and performance studies. She is also a writer and performer. Before becoming a teacher, she was a professional actor in Great Britain where she appeared in a variety of roles in television, film, and on the stage. She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Almost Famous Women includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In this collection of brilliantly written and cleverly imagined stories, Megan Mayhew Bergman brings to life women who have become footnotes in history. Fiercely independent, frequently eccentric, they are women who chose unconventional paths and achieved fame, however briefly. The stories in Almost Famous Women explore the choices these women made and the costs of their bravery and recklessness.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In “The Pretty, Grown-Together Children,” how is Daisy’s insistence that she narrate the story and Violet’s acquiescence representative of the sisters’ relationship?
2. Discuss Georgie’s perception of her relationship with Joe Carstairs in “The Siege at Whale Cay.” In what ways does Marlene’s visit cast doubts? Given Georgie’s understanding that “life with Joe never lasts” (p. 33), why does she remain on Whale Cay? What do you imagine Georgie’s future holds?
3. Why is Norma, of “Norma Millay’s Film Noir Period,” so willing to fill a sisterly role in which “it is understood that she should sense where she is needed and assist” (p. 69) Vincent? Is her loyalty to Vincent reciprocated? When have you set aside your own desires out of obligation or loyalty?
4. In “Hazel Eaton and the Wall of Death,” Hazel determines to fight her way back to “that vital feeling” (p. 108) that racing gives her. What is “that vital feeling” and what pushes her to seek it out? What characters in this collection display a similar thirst for adventure?
5. When Mario attempts to draw and asks Romaine to teach him, in “Romaine Remains,” what does he hope to gain? What happens to the control he seizes from her? Why does he sell only one of her drawings?
6. The nun who narrates “The Autobiography of Allegra Byron” had achieved a “blankness” (p. 115) at the convent until Allegra arrives. Why does she break protocol to care for Allegra? Is her encouragement of the girl’s hopes a kindness or a disservice?
7. What motivates the narrator of “Who Killed Dolly Wilde”? What is it about Dolly’s personality and experiences—or the narrator’s—that prevent Dolly from returning the narrator’s affections in full? Did you interpret the narrator’s actions at the end of the story as “the merciful thing to do” (p. 185)?
8. Lipstick brings the women in “The Internees” to life. What is one personal item that makes you feel most yourself?
9. Toward the end of “The Lottery, Redux,” Clare thinks, with dread, “what if the system fails?” What would the failure of the islanders’ system look like? Why do they preserve the tradition?
10. To what lengths do the women in “Hell-Diving Women” go in order to play their music? If the band were composed of men, would the audience’s reception have been the same? What drives Tiny to provoke the audience?
11. What is the cost of being exceptional, as the women in this collection are? How does it isolate them? What effect does fame or notoriety have on the people in their orbit?
12. Several of the stories are told from the vantage point of a companion who is close to the “almost famous” character. Why do you think the author chose to use this point of view? What characteristics do the companions have in common?
13. Discuss this passage from “Who Killed Dolly Wilde?”: “Maybe the world had been bad to its great and unusual women. Maybe there wasn’t a worthy place for the female hero to live out her golden years, to be celebrated as the men had been celebrated” (182). To what extent is society responsible for the fate of the characters?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Did you read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in school? Read (or re-read) the story and compare it to Bergman’s interpretation. What did she preserve and what did she alter? Do the stories leave you with the same feeling?
2. Ask each member of your group to choose one “almost famous” woman from the book to research. How does what you learn about the real-life women compare to the characters? We asked author Megan Mayhew Bergman to explain some of the historical links she discovered while researching these characters:
Dolly Wilde often compared herself to Allegra Byron, having a famous last name and being hidden away in a convent during her childhood.
Dolly and Joe Carstairs were lovers when they drove ambulances in World War II.
Romaine Brooks and Dolly Wilde were rivals for Natalie Barney's affection.
Edna St. Vincent Millay once read at Natalie Barney's salon; it is possible Romaine Brooks was in attendance.
3. If you had to write a story about another “almost famous” woman, who would you choose? Are there other women in history about whom you wish you knew more? Who, and why?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book and I got a bit of a wrong start. I was expecting (looking really forward to) reading about these almost famous women as a nonfiction book. But it turned out to be historical fiction instead. But I prevailed and I actually liked most of the stories since. For instance we get to know Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s niece, Butterfly McQueen who was in Gone with the Wind, author Bery Markham, the painter Romaine Remains etc. Some people in the book had I heard of before, some I hadn’t. But there were things with the book that bemused me like for instance a chapter about Allegra Byron, Lord Byron’s daughter, she was 5 when she died, hardy a famous woman, more like famous child or at least a famous girl. Then we have a chapter called The Interness about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Every other chapter up till then had been about one famous woman; this was about how expired lipstick was given to the women in the concentrations camp. Felt a bit like this story should have been in another book that was more about groups of women, like suffragettes. Last but not least the Lottery, redux, this is a “cover story” of Shirley Jacksons “The Lottery”. Good story, but why put a pure fiction story, a remake of a classic, in a book about almost famous women that have actually lived? In the end I liked the book. It was interesting and many of the women did I google to find out more about. Btw that was also a problem, a short biography before every chapter had have been nice. Now it felt that Megan Mayhew Bergman felt that the reader of course knows everything about the women that the story is about (But this is an ARC this could change in the finished book).