© Peter S. Beagle.
I read Peter Beagle’s fantasy novel, “The Last Unicorn” when it was published by Ballantine Books in 1968, and his earlier novel “A Fine and Private Place” when they published that in 1969. I loved both. I continued to buy Beagle’s infrequent fiction whenever I saw it, and loved it all. There was one book title listed on the inside front of that first paperback I was never able to find, though, and it’s this book. Not fiction, but an entertaining and beautifully written travelogue of a cross-country oddysey by Pete and his friend Phil on motorscooters in the early 1960s. This is not “Easy Rider.” This is two young Jewish guys from New York on motor scooters. Yes, they have adventures, but they’re not terribly dangerous ones for the most part. Much of the book focuses on their friendship, friends they visit, and strangers that befriend them along the way. It’s a tale of foolish youth, in some ways: they leave in April, and never get warm for weeks. They have lots of mechanical problems, little money, and are full of puppydog innocence that somehow gets them through every problem.
Much of the book reminded me of my own youth and early friends. The time period is a little earlier than my own adventures away from home, but the feel is similar. The early sixties by date, but in much of the country, it’s still the 1950s in most ways. Pete and Phil are a great pair, both funny and charming and irritating by turns. Their trip is, as many are, a voyage of discovery, a coming of age, and a memorable experience. Beagle gets all that down perfectly in his prose. If you’re a Beagle fan already, you’ll love it. If not, I think you’ll enjoy this book and want to read more by him. Highly recommended.