© Peter S. Beagle, cover design by Ann Monn.

I don’t read many short story collections any more, but those by Peter S. Beagle are all must-reads that I savor. Beagle has been a writer I’ve enjoyed reading since I discovered his first book, “A Fine and Private Place” in the 1960s, and his writing still enchants me. If anything, he’s gotten better with age, bringing his knowledge of life and human nature to every subject, and they are quite varied in this collection, as usual.

“The Rock in the Park” evokes the Bronx of Beagle’s childhood, but with a strong fantasy element: centaurs in Van Cortlandt Park. The setup and the magical map are a bit hard to believe in, but the characters and the language are charming. “Sleight of Hand” is a story of tragedy and how magic might be a path through it. More New York City memories here. “The Children of the Shark God” reads like a handed-down folk tale from the Pacific islands, and looks deep into myth making, the uneasy role of gods, and the equally uneasy roles of parents and children. This one reminded me of Neil Gaiman somehow, not sure why.

“What Tune The Enchantress Plays” is set in a remote corner of the world from Beagle’s “The Innkeeper’s Song,” and is one of the strongest pieces in the book for me. Once more the dangers of magic and how it might affect those who use it is explored in this wonderful and chilling story.  “La Lune T’Attend” is a Louisiana Cajun werewolf story. Not very much to my taste, but well written and authentically voiced I think. “The Rabbi’s Hobby” is a sort of ghost story, but a very unusual one where the ghost only appears in photos for most of the story, and it’s the people who see her that make for great reading: a Rabbi, his reluctant student, and someone who might know exactly who the ghost is. More great childhood remembrances here from Beagle as well.

“The Bridge Partner” is a chilling horror story with no fantasy element per se, and reads like something one might expect from Shirley Jackson if she were still around and writing. “Dirae” is a very different sort of horror story of an avenging spirit trying to come to grips with its own murky memories and strange existence. “Vanishing” is a sort of true-life horror story centered in Berlin during the Cold War days, or at least a place much like it with a few weird differences, like only three or four people in the city. Those people are all connected, as the tale spins out. This would have made a great hour-long “Twilight Zone” episode. Finally, “The Woman Who Married The Man In The Moon” revisits Shmendrick the Magician (From the novel “The Last Unicorn”) at a much earlier time in his life. It’s one of those stories where not a lot happens externally, but there’s a deep emotional undercurrent that I sometimes got, and sometimes didn’t quite. But it makes me want to read the novel again.

There are a few other very short stories as well that might take longer to describe than read, so I’ll just wrap this up by saying, if you’re a Beagle fan, get this book, and if you’re not, you should be!

Highly recommended.

Sleight of Hand by Peter S Beagle

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