Reviewed: “Almost Famous Women” by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Almost Famous WomenMegan Mayhew Bergman hit on an intriguing idea when she wrote Almost Famous Women, a collection of short biographies of women who were almost famous.

Almost famous women are women who hovered on the edge of fame, of doing something that led to them being in the collective consciousness decades after their deaths. Bergman cites biographies of most of the women, but they probably aren’t commonly read in the 21st century. This qualifies as almost famous. More than that, though, is the fact that these women were known in their time and their place, even if it was just by the world they inhabited.

Bergman includes the three year old illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Oscar Wilde’s niece, Butterfly McQueen – Prissy in Gone With the Wind, conjoined twins who moved in the same circles as Bob Hope, and an integrated swing band in the Jim Crow South. Some more famous than others and some with more of a story to tell than others, they are all intriguing.

What makes the stories both interesting and slightly confusing is the fact that they aren’t written as biographies. They’re written as short stories, almost never from the perspective of the person they are intended to be about. The strand of fiction in what the reader must otherwise assume is non-fiction can make the reader a little skeptical of the facts. I found myself wondering, for example, if the Capuchin nun who looked after Allegra Byron was real and how Bergman might have known what happened in that convent.

Usually, I like it when a book sends me for further research but in this case it seems more like a bother. I wish Bergman had cited more, even if she kept the stories as they are.

Three stars out of five.

(I received a copy of Almost Famous Women through NetGalley in exchange for an honest, original review. This review will be cross-posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.)

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