‘We Never Talk About My Brother’ is the title story of this anthology by Peter S. Beagle. Some of the other stories herein include ‘Uncle Chaim, Aunt Rifke And The Angel’, ‘The Tale OF JUNKO AND Sayuri’, ‘King Pelles The Sure’ and ‘The Last And Only, Or Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French’ all of which also appear in ‘Mirror Kingdoms: The Best Of Peter S. Beagle’, which I have already reviewed this month. I didn’t mention the story about a chap becoming French in that review but, while good, it is slightly too absurd for my taste. Nor did I review ‘Uncle Chaim, Aunt Rifke And The Angel’ again, because I did so when it appeared in ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science-Fiction but it is very good. Beagle doesn’t do bad. His range is from good to absolutely bloody marvellous.
That leaves me with only four stories to critique. ‘Spook’ is a Joe Farrell adventure. He’s the cook who featured in ‘Julie’s Unicorn’ and here finds a desirable new apartment haunted by a ghost who is convinced that Joe is his killer. As he was murdered over a hundred years ago, this isn’t so but spooks are stubborn even when wrong. It had me laughing out loud and is the finest thing here. If you ask me it should have featured in The Best Of Peter S. Beagle, but no one did ask.
‘The Stickball Witch’ is set in the Bronx in the 50s but has some universal characteristics or at least some common to western cultures and perhaps others. Every neighbourhood has that feared old person into whose garden children dare not tread, even to get the ball back. When the Stickball Witch comes out to join in the game, things get interesting. Especially nostalgic fun, no doubt, for those who share ‘Mr. Beagle’s New York’ origins.
‘By Moonlight’ is a tale of Oberon and Titania, the Queen of Faery. As, so often with Beagle, it is told to someone else, a highwayman in this case, by the person to whom it all happened, a Reverend in this case. On a lonely Yorkshire moor, the clergyman went wandering one night looking for his cat and wandered into the magic kingdom. The story was narrated in the usual seemingly effortless prose and passed the time pleasantly. I am unable to describe Beagle’s writing but it is so natural, so easy, so unforced that it seems to have come into being almost organically by itself. Even with the best of writers, you can see, occasionally, the craftsman at work, sometimes badly. A jerky transition, a bad simile, something will bring the writer to your attention. Beagle is invisible, perhaps because he uses his narrators so well.
‘Chandail’ the last story, is about telepathic sea monsters who get inside your head and play with your memories and make you cry. It is told by Lalkhamsin-khamsolal, an old lady now, who did not enjoy the sea monsters’ attentions because her memories were mostly bad. She was sold into slavery as a child and raped. A moving revenge story with a lot of soul searching by the teller.
The problem for the purchaser of short story collections is to avoid wasting money buying the same ones twice. As mentioned, half of this collection is included in ‘Mirror Kingdoms: The Best Of Peter S. Beagle’ and, hand on heart, that is the better book, if only because it contains more of Peter S. Beagle. However, it is a limited edition and might not be available or affordable and you would miss out on ‘Spook’, which is marvellous. The canny reader will scour the contents pages of the various anthologies and decide which ones best fit the finances. Having read these two, I am sorely tempted to chase up every single word Peter S. Beagle has ever written and devour them at my leisure.
(pub: Tachyon. 211 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-892391-83-4)