For decades, musician and author Peter S. Beagle has been hailed as the finest living American writer of fantasy. Now Tachyon Publications has released his latest collection of stories, We Never Talk About My Brother.
Beagle is most well known for two classic novels written at the very beginning of his career, neither of which have ever been out of print. The Last Unicorn is probably his most famous and beloved, but I feel A Fine and Private Place is the better book-a truly timeless classic. He continues to attract faithful fans with his wit, charm and powerful writing in novels like Tansin, The Innkeeper's Song, and the collection The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche . Did I mention he also wrote the "Sarek" episode of Star Trek: TNG? Yeah, that one.
Reading the recent "Rabbi's Holiday" in Eclipse Two (Night Shade Books) I thought, "Wow, the guy's just getting better!" It would stand to reason that any talented author would naturally improve with age like fine wine. Sadly, this is not always the case; every reader knows that particular heartbreak. But Beagle will not disappoint you. The nineteen-year-old summer camp counselor who wrote A Fine and Private Place has been at his craft for half a century now and the work has really paid off.
"Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel" is inspired by Beagle's own New York Jewish childhood touched by a divine presence both quirky and commanding. The wonderfully drawn family portraits are as warm and satisfying as a big plate of latkes. A companion piece to the aforementioned "Rabbi's Holiday", I adore these.
The narrative voice shifts effortlessly on the title track "We Never Talk About My Brother". A blue-collar regular Joe has a family secret and a very good reason for keeping it. Visceral? There's a line on the eighteenth page that felt like a blow to my solar plexus. After that it just gets intense, like Kingdom Come intense.
"The Tale of Junko and Sayuri": Reminiscent of both Neil Gaiman's Dream Hunters from Sandman and Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, it uses the common folktale motif of the Animal Wife with a nice twist. Rediscover that uneasy feeling when the person you love turns out to be not who what they seem.
"King Pelles the Sure" wants to give his happy prosperous nation the only thing it has ever lacked, a war. This quick cappricio keeps a somber counterpoint to create a great anti-war fable. There is in no way any allegory of any recent historical events. It should be added to Elementary school curricula everywhere.
Medical science is baffled by "The Last and Only, or Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French". With no where else to turn, a middle-aged couple must come to grips with the husband's complete and inexorable slide into foreignness. An inventively original farce that is also a deep commentary on identity and loss.
I couldn't help but think of Dan Ackroyd while reading "Spook", especially his role in Ghostbusters and as Leonard Pinth-Garnell on SNL. It has vengeance from beyond the grave and the Worst Poems to be found in the most foetid, blackest pits of the English Language. Guess which one is more horrifying.
"The Stickball Witch" returns back to the old neighborhood and that one house all the kids were scared of. This and the next story are previously unpublished. To my mind they are the weakest in the book being merely good. The description of the old lady here is picture-perfect.
"By Moonlight" a haunted man recounts his time in the land of Faery. Bittersweet and authentic to the period and the classic folklore, this piece is satisfying but not terribly original. It's more like an old song everyone in the pub sings along to.
As the first story is told by a young boy it is fitting that the narrator of "Chandail" is an old storyteller. Lal recounts her relationship with a sea monster with uncanny powers and with her own painful memories. This is set in the same world as Beagle's novel The Innkeeper's Song. I have not read it but is definitely going on my list.
The first half of the collection are the strongest of the stories but each one is a beautiful song, each with it's own voice and tone. Beagle plays the classic themes of love and death, sacrifice and self-discovery like a master. Never clichéd, he pulls out new riffs and vamps on the expected conventions of modern fantasy, even the ones he helped create in the first place. With just the right notes he can describe an entire room, the people in it and the mood, all in a few perfect sentences. Pure poetry. Beagle is an American bard: He makes the tough guys weep and all the girls sigh.
Grey_Area is known among the unicorns as Christopher Hsiang. He means you no harm - he's just here for the books.