Review: In Calabria, by Peter S. Beagle

Tachyon Publications, LLC., 2017.

Let it be said up front that Calabria is a region of southern Italy, in the “toe of the boot.” There on a hillside farm lives Claudio Bianchi, alone except for his old dog Garibaldi, his old goat Cherubino, and three cats: Sophia, Mezzanotte, and Third Cat, which is more position than name, since Bianchi had never learned her real name, “as one must do with cats.” Other than twice-weekly visits from young Romano the postman, It’s a hard and lonely existence, which suits Bianchi just fine. The farm gives him enough of a living to live, plus time to read and sometimes write poetry, which he mostly keeps to himself. All that changes when the unicorn visits his scraggly vineyard for reasons that Bianchi cannot fathom:

“He would indeed  have taken it for an illusion, if Cherubino, anarchist and atheist like all goats, had not remained kneeling for some time afterward, before getting to his feet, shaking himself and glancing briefly at Bianchi before  wandering off. Bianchi knew the truth then, and sat down.”

He writes a poem about the unicorn, but the visitation proves to be more than a one-time miracle. The unicorn returns, and is apparently searching for something. The truth finally dawns on Bianchi: the unicorn is pregnant, and what she’s searching for is a place to have her foal…fawn? Bianchi isn’t sure. But when she makes her nest in a hollow near his apple orchard, the farmer begins keeping vigil, and it is there that Giovanna, the postman’s sister covering his route that day, finds Bianchi, and finds the unicorn. Soon she’s in on the conspiracy of silence, and essentially in the unicorn’s service as much as Bianchi, though he might not have put it that way, already is. The unicorn eventually has a difficult birth, and Bianchi is there to assist, and all is well, for a while.

Some secrets are impossible to keep, and the unicorn and her newborn are among them. It’s not long before reporters, animal rights activists, and unicorn hunters are snooping around and sneaking through and trampling  Bianchi’s farm, but the real danger arrives with the monster, a monster in human form, as the worst ones tend to be.

So that’s the plot. Trivial things, plots, or would be if one didn’t need a way to lay out what does and must happen in the course of the story. The bones, if not the flesh. Seldom if ever what the story is about. At its heart, In Calabria is a love story, and I don’t simply mean the contentious but real affection Bianchi and Giovanna come to feel for each other. There’s also healing. In time we learn why Bianchi is alone in the first place, and the tragedy that put him there. In Calabria is also a story of awe and wonder, and all that contained in a novella-sized package. It contains multitudes. Yes, I know. The monster must be defeated, the dangers averted, or else the story is about something else entirely. So let’s leave that part for the reader, where it rightly belongs.

If you already know Peter Beagle’s work, and you haven’t read this book, I don’t know what to tell you, other than stop wasting time and get to it. I’m already mad at myself for waiting so long to do the same. If  you don’t know Beagle’s work, then correct this error as soon as possible. Start with The Last Unicorn, or A Fine and Private Place, or The Folk of the Air, or The Innkeeper’s Song or...well, I really doubt it matters. No writer is for every reader, but if Peter Beagle isn’t for you, then I can only offer my sincere condolences. But it’s well worth your time to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Winter

I don’t care what the calendar says. Winter is here. It’s been snowing for the last few days, and I’ve had to shovel the driveway and sidewalk, so that’s winter in my book. Fall was short, and the leaves are already gone, mostly buried under snow.

I’m still adapting to the idea of seasons. As I’ve said before, in the Deep South we really didn’t have them anymore, and that wasn’t always the case. I can remember having falls and springs and winters. Summers never went away, but over the years they kept stealing days from the rest of the seasons until there just wasn’t much left. If you meet a climate change denier over the age of fifty from the deep south, then you’re looking at someone in denial of their own experience.This is something I’ve never understood, almost as weird as someone arguing that water isn’t wet.

Which, by the way, it definitely is.

On a completely unrelated subject, snippet du jour:

“I wish,” Mera said, and sat down without being asked. “Who is the annoying pooka and what did you two do?”

“He’s Nudd, and who says we did anything? Honestly, sweetie, pull yourself together. I can’t talk to you like this,” Aednat said.

“Oh, right. Give me a sec….” Mera the nightmare appeared to be trying to concentrate, which was an expression that would have been comic if it hadn’t been on the face of such a horror. As it was, it magnified the effect. I felt a chill and Aednat actually shuddered. The feeling passed quickly and then we were looking at Mera in what I can only assume was her true form.

It wasn’t quite what I expected.

In the chair was a woman with curly red hair and freckles. Her face was a little flushed, probably due to the drink, but she didn’t look anything like a horse. She appeared about the same age as Aednat, though I knew, as humans reckoned years, both were far older.

“What did you mean, ‘what did we do?’”

“You must have done something. I know why you’re here, and I know where you’re going,” Mera said.

“Oh,” Aednat said, and that was all.

“It’s worse than that,” Mera said. “I was ordered to meet you, though I expected to find you on the train when it leaves. Well, no sense putting it off.”

I frowned. “Put what off?”

“Letting you know I was ordered to come with you.”

Aednat frowned. “You too?”

Mera nodded, looking unhappy. “Why do you think I was drinking?”

Story Time: Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng

I’m late again. There are reasons, but I won’t bore you with them. I’m late, that’s all, and to somewhat atone, today’s Story Time is a novelette, “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng. It was originally published in the debut issue of Black Gate back in 2000.

The character Golden Bell, literally, came to me in a dream, and this is what she said “I have a fever of poetry that consumes me, a malady of song that wears me down.” I had no idea what that was about, so I basically wrote the story to find out. I did the hard part. If you want to know, all you have to do is read it.

Assuming I’m not late again, “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng” will stay online until next Wednesday, September 5th.

Story Time: A Mother’s Love

Late again. My only defense is that it has been a very busy day. I had a story due and I barely made that in time, in addition to trying to get a handle on a project affecting almost all of my books, and a writer’s group meeting. On the plus side, Scott Andrews over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies has picked up “In Memory of Jianhong, Snake Devil” for the next “Best of” yearly compilation of the magazine. That’s always a boost to the day.

Regardless, and just under the wire, today’s Story Time is an original piece of flash fiction, “A Mother’s Love.” Enjoy. And if you can’t, at least you didn’t pay a lot for it.

 

“A Mother’s Love” will remain online until next  Wednesday. You know the  drill by now.

Story Time: Fox Tails

This week’s Story Time is the novelette that began the Yamada Monogatari series, “Fox Tails.” It was originally published in the June 2005 issue of Realms of Fantasy.

As I’ve said before, I originally conceived of Yamada no Goji as a sort of noir style detective in Heian Japan. Unlike some cases, I did know it was a series when I first wrote it. I don’t always know that, witness the Eli Mothersbaugh stories. What I didn’t know and couldn’t have imagined at the time was how much Yamada would evolve over the series from my original concept. Yamada had his own ideas, apparently, but I didn’t mind. Ill behaved characters are usually the best.