Miranda Hill

In her first collection of stories, Birds of a Lesser Paradise (2012), Megan Mayhew Bergman focused on the relationships between humans and animals. In her new collection, Almost Famous Women, Bergman focuses on the lives of real women who have been marginalized (or mythologized) in history. They include Violet and Daisy Hilton, conjoined twins at odds in life but not in body; Marion “Joe” Carstairs, a womanizing power boat racer; Allegra Byron, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron and Claire Clairmont; and many other women whose stories are as captivating as they are obscure.

Bergman’s focus is on gender, regardless of time, race, sexuality or nationality, and she celebrates complexity rather than apologizing for it—after all, great women aren’t necessarily good. Her prose is as startling in its variance and complexity as the lives of the women it describes. Their once overlooked stories are not to be missed.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

In her new collection, Almost Famous Women, Bergman focuses on the lives of real women who have been marginalized (or mythologized) in history. They include Violet and Daisy Hilton, conjoined twins at odds in life but not in body; Marion “Joe” Carstairs, a womanizing power boat racer; Allegra Byron, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron and Claire Clairmont; and many other women whose stories are as captivating as they are obscure.

In the vein of authors like Deborah Harkness and Katherine Howe, magic and reality are perfectly blended in bookseller Chrysler Szarlan’s debut novel, The Hawley Book of the Dead—the first installment in a planned quartet. Revelation “Reve” Dyer is a woman graced with a touch of magic, but plagued by a malicious spirit that seeks to destroy her. 

After her magician husband Jeremy is murdered, Reve and her three daughters flee their magic act and their lives in Las Vegas, seeking sanctuary at the site of her childhood adventures—the enchanting, possibly enchanted, forest of Hawley Five Corners in Massachusetts. Reve is quickly drawn to a mysterious book that could hold the key to her family’s hidden powers. But will the book help her, or aid in her destruction?

Szarlan, who lives near the Hawley woods, renders the forest in stunning detail and accurately depicts the insular experience of New England life to slowly build a sense of relentless tension. As the danger to Reve’s life and family increases, the novel becomes ever more engrossing: This brave and independent character is worthy of admiration as well as survival. 

Szarlan conjures the ties that bind the past and the present, as well as the love that keeps a family together—creating a magic all her own and making The Hawley Book of the Dead a novel well worth discovering.

In the vein of authors like Deborah Harkness and Katherine Howe, magic and reality are perfectly blended in bookseller Chrysler Szarlan’s debut novel, The Hawley Book of the Dead—the first installment in a planned quartet. Revelation “Reve” Dyer is a woman graced with a touch of magic, but plagued by a malicious spirit that seeks to destroy her. 

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