Review: Last Unicorn's Peter S. Beagle turns trickster in latest collection

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

The now-nearly-forgotten SF writer Lloyd Biggle once asked an editor, "What kind of story do you need from me this week?" The editor replied, "Give me a Biggle-ish one."

The mere similarity of "Biggle" with "Beagle" dredged up that memory for me. But I think—despite the vast disparities between the talents of Lloyd B. and Peter B.—that editorial quip applies equally to We Never Talk About My Brother, the latest story collection from the famed author of A Fine and Private Place (1960) and The Last Unicorn (1968).

This is a volume of Beagle-ish stories, all linked, despite their varied subject matter and tone, to one shining creative spirit, identifiable by a certain radiance of emotion and thought, whatever the guise. At age 70, still vital and productive, Beagle—like such other seasoned vets as Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock—practically exudes stories from his whole being, rather than merely writes them. Fans of Beagle will instantly know what I mean and fall upon this offering with glee. Newbies, upon exiting this volume, will be converts as well.

Beagle delivers a Yiddish-style tall tale in "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel," in which a heavenly servant harboring a certain "parasite" comes to act as muse to an artist. A similarly humorous Bronx-ian feel accompanies "The Stickball Witch."

Then, throwing a curve, Beagle delivers an authentically foreign excursion such as "The Tale of Junko and Sayuri." Or a neverland fable like "King Pelles the Sure." Or a Ron-Goulart-flavored romp like "Spook." Or an Earthsea-tinted piece like "Chandail."

His trickster's bag still full, he also treats us to a surreal jape such as Carol Emshwiller might have written, "The Last and Only, or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French." The title story verges on Jerome-Bixby-flavor horror, and a piece unique to this volume, "By Moonlight," is Robert Louis Stevenson by way of John Crowley.

But your head is never dizzy from this shuttling amongst themes and moods and places exotic and familiar, since the same wise Mr. Beagle always has firm hold of your hand throughout.