A Fine & Private Place, Peter Beagle, ROC Fantasy, Penguin Books, 1992, (Copyright 1960), ISBN 0-451-45096-5, softcover, illustrated by Darrell Sweet.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace– Andrew Marvell.
“To His Coy Mistress”
Legend has it that in more innocent times generations of salacious schoolboys memorized and salivated over the lines of Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress. Whether the legend be truth I know not but it is a fine poem.
Many an author has taken a line from it for to entitle a work. Peter Beagle has ambitiously taken two, the first for his title and the second for his theme, the first for his setting and the second for his story. A graveyard is the setting wherein two entwined love stories are told, one pair of lovers living, one pair of lovers dead.
The dead are Michael and Laura. Each is a ghost. The dead, you see, do not forthwith into that great void; the remembered self continue on until memory and interest do fail. Each died a separate death; it is only after death that they meet. They fall in love and that should not be for it is not mete that the dead should love.
The living are Johnathan Rebeck and Mrs. Klapper. He is a recluse, a mentor to ghosts, who lives in the cemetery, having abandoned life and and the living. He speaks to and perceives the dead. Like them he is bound to the cemetery, they by whatever law governs the movement of the dead, and he by nature and habit. She is a middle-aged Jewish housewife whose husband died a year ago. She comes to the cemetery to visit the grave of her dead husband and ends up visiting Mr. Rebeck instead.
The two pairs of lovers (if one may speak of lovers when none embrace in the story) are not the only characters. There are two more. The raven is more conventional. He is a companion to Mr. Rebeck and brings him food and odd objects. The raven is a bit cynical and crotchety; he doesn’t really want to bring food to a hermit (what on Earth for) but that’s what ravens do and he’s stuck with it.
The sixth character is a truckdriver for the cemetery, one Campos, who drinks and sings songs, and who can also see and talk to the dead. Why? The living do not see, do not hear the dead because they are too much bound to the immediacy of life. Campos is perhaps too much himself to be bound tightly; he does not care in the way that we are supposed to care.
Peter Beagle is one of the finest authors of an un-named genre that I call adult children’s fantasy. If you like this genre, whatever it is, you will like A Fine and Private Place.
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