Some books make me hate the rating system and how subjective reviews can be. I go with my gut instinct, then begin to second guess it. Birds of a Lesser Paradise is one of these books because it is wonderful. Some really amazing and nearly perfect stories are included. The only problem with this collection is that it is unbalanced. Open up the book, start reading on page one, and you'll find amazing story after amazing story. The characters are quirky and interesting. The stories are thought-provoking and stirring. The language is so incredibly tender and vivid. And Bergman's balance of structure, her use of animals, her dissection of relationships—it's all ingenious.
Once you've hit the halfway mark, the stories start to fall off a little. Now, these stories in the second half are still really good, but the bar has already been set too damn high. Maybe if these weaker stories had been sprinkled throughout the collection, they wouldn't have stood out as much.
So do I rate the collection when it's at its best? If I did so, Birds of a Lesser Paradise would be an easy five stars. But my instinct is to judge the collection as a whole. And in that case, I cannot go higher than a four. But that's a highly-recommended four. Any author who can churn out the stories Bergman does in the first half of this book is certainly worth your time. Expect to see the author's new collection of stories, Almost Famous Women, on my currently-reading shelf soon.