Review of Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman

SFFaudio Review

Birds of a Lesser ParadiseBirds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories
By Megan Mayhew Bergman; Read by Cassandra Campbell
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
ISBN: 9781442357921
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 28 minutes
Publication Date: November 2012

Themes: / birds / animals / relationships / parents / cancer / literary /

Publisher Summary:
An “astonishing debut collection, by a writer reminiscent of such greats as Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout, and even Chekhov” (Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants), focusing on women navigating relationships with humans, animals, and the natural world. Exploring the way our choices and relationships are shaped by the menace and beauty of the natural world, Megan Mayhew Bergman’s powerful and heartwarming collection captures the surprising moments when the pull of our biology becomes evident, when love or fear collides with good sense, or when our attachment to an animal or wild place can’t be denied.

This book came out in print in March 2012, and 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.)

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

SFFaudio Review

This Is How You Lose HerThis is How You Lose Her
By Junot Díaz; Read by Junot Díaz
5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2012
ISBN: 9781611761108
Themes: / short stories / relationships / childhood / immigrant experience /

Publisher summary:

On a beach in the
Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a
hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing
and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his
only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories
is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose
longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the
extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss
Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love
of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that
is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in
This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable
weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs
over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is one of my favorite books, featuring the best geeky character I have ever come across in fiction.  Since Díaz is most often talked about in literary circles and not science fiction and fantasy, you may be unfamiliar with his work, but this is your warning that he is coming into our arena!  He was included in the recent (and only) science fiction issue of the New Yorker, and is currently working on a post-apocalyptic novel.

What I loved about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is present in these stories, which all jump off of Yunior, one of the characters in the novel.  They are all read by the author, which really brings them to life.  At five discs, this is a quick but enjoyable listen.  I went back and listened to a few more than once.

More than anything, it is the writing that draws me in.  The way Díaz captures how people think about relationships, about sex, and interact with and treat each other rings true; the characters that morph between the Dominican Republic and the USA, struggling to fit in (and deal with snow, haha) are flawed in honest ways.  There is not any explicit reference to geekdom like there was in Oscar Wao, but readers who know the character of Yunior from the novel will know more about his background.

A few quotations from the stories:

from Nilda

“The newest girl’s called Samantha and she’s a problem. She’s dark and heavy-browed and has a mouth like unswept glass – when you least expect it, she cuts you.”

from Flaca

“‘It wasn’t supposed to get serious between us. I can’t see us getting married or nothing.’|
And you nodded your head and said you understood. And then, we fucked, so we could pretend that nothing hurtful had just happened.”

“Do you remember? When the fights seemed to go on and on, and always ended with us in bed, tearing at each other like maybe that could change everything.”

Posted by Jenny Colvin