Oh, where to start with Peter S. Beagle. I love his books so much, you guys*. His writing breaks my heart, in all the best ways. A Fine and Private Place is no exception. Where to start, where to start. Well, let’s start at the beginning. “The baloney weighted the raven down, and the shopkeeper almost caught him as he whisked out the delicatessen door.” Why is the raven stealing a whole baloney? Because there is a man, Jonathan Rebeck, who has been living in a nearby cemetery for 19 and the raven is his only source of food. Quoth the raven:
“Ravens brings things to people. We’re like that. It’s our nature. We don’t like it. We’d much rather be eagles, or swans, or even one of those moronic robins, but we’re ravens and there you are. Ravens don’t feel right without somebody to bring things to, and when we do find somebody we realize what a silly business it was in the first place.” He made a sound between a chuckle and a cough. “Ravens are pretty neurotic birds. We’re closer to people than any other bird, and we’re bound to them all of lives, but we don’t have to like them. You think we brought Elijah food because we liked him? He was an old man with a dirty beard.”
But for all that he is cynical, the raven is kind to Rebeck in his way, bringing him not only food but over time and from different places, the pieces of a chess set. Not that the raven plays chess with Rebeck. No, that task falls to the spirits on the newly deceased, who wander the graveyard for a while after their deaths, before settling in to sleep. A Fine and Private Place focuses on two such spirits, Michael and Laura. Michael is convinced his beautiful wife killed him and Laura isn’t sure what she did before dying can strictly be called living. Also entering the fray is Gertrude Klapper, recently widowed and at a bit of a loose ends when she notices Rebeck in the cemetery one day.
A Fine and Private Place is a quiet story, an introspective story, a story full of melancholy, a story about finding joy. It’s a story about learning to live, about coming to terms with the past and death, about moving forward. It’s a novel which Mr. Beagle wrote at just nineteen, which is made all the more astounding when you realize the depth of understanding of human nature with which the book is written. I’m pretty sure at nineteen my greatest contribution to culture was posting online that The O.C. would be a much better show if Ryan and Seth would just make out already. Which, in fairness, is still true!
Anyway, please consider reading A Fine and Private Place*** soon. It’s a lovely, heart wrenching book well worth the few hours of your time it will take up.
*So much so that the one time I had an opportunity to meet him, I both almost cried and accidentally insulted him** because I couldn’t get my brain to work in his presence.
**I implied that he was only releasing new editions of books to get more of my money, oh my god, shut up, Amanda. Especially since he can fucking have my money! Please, let me give you money so you can write more wonderful, wonderful books. That seems like the best deal in the world, I promise! I love you, Peter S. Beagle!
***While looking for a Kindle editions to pull quotes from, I discovered that A Fine and Private Place, The Last Unicorn, and Mirror Kingdoms^ are all available via Kindle Unlimited. So if you have Kindle Unlimited you should go download all three because, seriously, Peter S. Beagle is the best.
^A volume of short stories. And if you recall, I said Peter S. Beagle was the king of short stories. I’m willing to hear arguments otherwise, but only if you’ve done your research and read this book first!