Megan Mayhew Bergman
What a Strange Season: Fiction
Over the past ten years, Megan Mayhew Bergman has proven herself to be a very good short story writer. His stories have appeared in literary journals such as AGNIthe Kenyon Reviewand plow shares, and, more recently, the Sewanee Review, Narrative review, and even Oh, Oprah’s magazine, and they were collected in America’s Best Short Stories. After Bergman’s first collection of stories, Birds of a little paradise (2012), I started to wait for his first novel. In 2015, she published a second collection entitled Almost Famous Women, a wonderful collection, but still no novel. So I waited.
Besides being a fiction writer, Bergman, who lives on a small farm in Vermont, is also a journalist. She has written non-fiction about famous and near-famous women, nature and the environment for the new yorkerthe Guardian, and the Paris review. She teaches environmental literature and writing at Middlebury College in Vermont.
His latest book is another collection of stories, What a strange season. It consists of seven imaginative and captivating short stories and, finally, a provocative short novel, titled Indigo Race, which makes me think she has a romance in her.
Indigo Race is the longest fictional account Bergman has ever published. This short story and the shortest story in the book, “The Night Hag”, are all new and related in that they include a common character. Indigo Race is a Glass family story that begins in 1752. It was then that Marlon Glass survived a storm, regained consciousness in the woods of an old plantation in South Carolina, and eventually bought it, christening it Stillwood. Despite the start of this brief 18th-century patriarch’s escapade, Bergman’s third-person narrative focuses on the women of the Glass family: Mary-Grace, her daughter Helena-Raye, and Helena’s daughter Sally-Ann. , nicknamed Skip. Although the story sometimes dates back to the Civil War, most takes place shortly after World War I, when Win Spangler, a Texan, meets and marries Helena Glass, marrying into a real Southern family. The story ends in 1954, but in the meantime, love and grief permeate their Southern home in the form of marriage and adultery, and Bergman adds a touch of horror with a ghostly figure called Night Hag.
Bergman reveals the witch’s origins in the tale “The Night Hag”. She is a cousin of Eve, who was born not from a coast, but “from a fish’s egg in a stream that runs through a verdant coastal forest”. When she came of age, she lived in a tree and was meant to stay there until she found true love. One day, a lover, who was bringing her presents, passes by, grabs her by the foot and jumps on her. He abandons her and the horrible memory of Him stays with her for a hundred years. “She scared away the storms when she remembered his face. Her greatest wish was to pierce her lover’s chest with one hand and disembowel him…”
Women of all kinds populate this book: artists, entrepreneurs, marketers and environmentalists, each realist in strange and memorable ways. In the words of Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “Well-bred women rarely make good literature. In this collection, there is no story titled “How Strange a Season”. Instead, the title of the book comes from a poem by Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli:
I’m struck by the strangeness of the season
And by the way my body felt the cold.
I’m still waiting for that full novel, but there’s nothing wrong with writing short stories; it seemed to work well for Alice Munro and Raymond Carver. And not too long ago, Danielle Evans, who is first and foremost a short-story writer, published a collection of stories The Office of Historical Corrections, who also included his first short story.
Bergman’s stories in this latest collection are traditional only in their length and narrative form. Each includes a different type of woman as the protagonist. In “Workhorse”, Marianna, whose mother left behind her money, owns a flower shop. Although she tries to accumulate high-end customers to buy her extravagant facilities, the business does not go well. Her “sweetly estranged husband” Zach is out of rehab for an addiction to oxycodone and a bit of a pest. They had been planning a divorce for a few years, but neither liked the paperwork. His father retired from banking and decided to return to Sardinia. He offers to review his balance sheet because maybe his world should revolve around profit, not art. But when things aren’t going well for him, he wants her to visit.
In “Wife Days”, Farrah is still swimming competitively in her thirties, but she never made a career out of it. She makes a deal with her real estate agent husband: she will grant him four good “Wife Days” per week if he leaves her alone to do what she wants for the other three. Farrah, who is flirtatious and sexy, is not as playful as one might expect. She suffers from depression, but she was interned only once, eighteen years ago. Swimming has only one goal for her: “It keeps the madmen at bay. She is convinced that swimming repels madness, that exhaustion brings her clarity, and that the only way to keep this clarity is to swim harder and longer.
In “The Heirloom”, Regan inherited a ranch in Arizona from her mother Molly, who had built an “Earth Home on an environmentally conscious ranch community owned by single women… They called the place of Molly’s “The House of Fallen Women” because it had become a refuge for divorcees and women who had given up a prescribed life and found themselves in the desert in search of true freedom. The ranch was too expensive to manage. So Regan creates a playground for the “Basic Rich Men” to vent their feelings using heavy machinery to pile tires, bulldoze holes or, for eight hundred dollars, crush cars with a big shovel. At first she thought men wouldn’t take her seriously because she was nice and petite, so she took an “online power dynamics class with a dominatrix and learned how to exercise his power”. Regan will hide it’s a fake family heirloom that one of the men would discover and make all that sense to dig up and destroy: you weren’t just a manly man; you have been helpful and heroic.
She’s the grandmother who leaves Hayes a glass house on the California coast in “Inheritance.” Grandma didn’t like Hayes the most, she just didn’t have anyone else to give the place to. As she tries to temporarily adjust to the community and figure out what to do with an inheritance she cannot pay property taxes on, she discovers an old man with memory loss looming around her property.
Next, Bergman takes us from the West Coast to Alaska and the Southeast. When Lily’s girlfriend flies to Alaska to study the migration patterns of the endangered red knot for her doctoral project, she travels to Alligator, North Carolina to save the local fish from the dreaded lionfish in “A Taste for Lionfish”. Lily works for the invaders and the plan is to get people to fish and eat lionfish. Considered a “savior of the world”, she is not very well received in the city. Even Ward, who provides her with accommodation, says she has no business there. “You can’t tell people how to solve your problems. You solve them,” he says, although he has many of his own unresolved issues.
In “Peaches, 1979”, this is the first year that Darcy is responsible for the management of the orchard. Not only will the harvest year be tough, but Darcy has been in her stoic father’s shoes since his death two years ago. Her sister Beth is at a “Christian women’s boarding house” called Weeks Farm, her grumpy evangelical mother always gives her a hard time, and her brother Daniel has been in police custody since she was fifteen. Darcy thinks he’s probably into drugs. Worse still, there’s a murderer in town named the Strangler, and Darcy thinks he looks like Daniel.
In her story “Hell-Diving Women”, from her previous collection, Almost Famous Women, Bergman fictionalises the 1940s group, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. The Sweethearts were America’s first all-inclusive girl group. Now Bergman is working on a non-fiction book about these women, and she says she’s about halfway there. As for the novel I was waiting for, she writes: “A novel will come! Indigo Race is halfway.
In the meantime, read his stories.