- The Good: Short story collection of quiet, comforting magical realism
- The Bad: Lots of different things here; it’s best to give a little time between each piece of fiction
- The Literary: Personal chapter introductions from the author
Peter S. Beagle, best known for the The Last Unicorn, is one of my favorite authors. With an ability to seamlessly move from reality to fantasy, his stories possess an authenticity of truth. They seem more real than most fiction, as straightforward plots unfold with deft and often intricate prose.
This collection of stories will surprise in its breadth—from children’s to adult stories, fairy tales to urban fantasy, with unicorns, werewolves, witches, angels, and ghosts. These stories are about as far away as you can get from theatric or genre though, and fall firmly onto the side of contemplative magical realism.
The stories in order:
- Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros – ★★★★★ – A philosophy professor befriends a rhinocerous who claims he’s a unicorn. Clever and touching.
- Come Lady Death – ★★★★★ – An aging socialite invites death to her party. Gothic, suspenseful, and satisfying.
- Lila the Werewolf – ★★★☆☆ – A young man discovers his girlfriend is a werewolf, but doesn’t break if off because he hates confrontation. With unrealized potential and lots of dead dogs, this titular story was my least favorite.
- Gordon, the Self-Made Cat – ★★★★★ – A mouse goes to cat school. An innocent and playful children’s story.
- Four Fables (The Fable of the Moth, The Fable of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Fable of the Ostrich, The Fable of the Octopus) – ★★★★★ – Simple fairy tales with cheeky morals
- El Regalo – ★★★★☆ – Angie’s stupid little brother finds out he is a witch. Captivating for its accurate depiction of frustrating little brothers who don’t follow the rules, with unrealized novel potential.
- Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel – ★★★★★ – An angel appears in the studio of a New York Jewish painter, claiming to be his new muse.
- We Never Talk About My Brother – ★★★★★ – The second story in this collection about a sibling with magical powers and another with unrealized potential, except here, the brother is a grown TV anchorman with the ability to alter reality with his words. A harsh critique of the news and a satisfying conclusion.
- King Pelles the Sure – ★★★★☆ – An anti-war story about the monarch of a small, wealthy, and peaceful kingdom who only dreams of war. A little long and meandering.
- The Last and Only; or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French – ★★★★★ – A middle-aged American librarian contracts a disease that slowly turns him French. A silly concept delivered with startling reality.
- Spook – ★★★★☆ – A man’s house is haunted by a ghost, and with the help of an intermediary, they decide a duel is in order to decide who gets the house—and the girlfriend. The manner of the duel and its finish are a delightful ode to bad poetry.
- The Stickball Witch – ★★★★★ – A group of young boys playing stickball in the street accidentally hit a ball into a witch’s yard. As youthfully magical as the best Bradbury.
- A Dance for Emilia – ★★★★★ – A man’s best old friend dies suddenly, and grief becomes a magical force. Without giving too much away, this story is a weight of emotional release.
And don’t forget to take a few moments to appreciate the gorgeous illustrations from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. Highly recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Susanna Clarke!