"A Fine & Private Place"
Reflections on a novel by Peter S. Beagle
I don't know that it would be fair to actually call this a book review. Perhaps it is more a fond ramble about a book that made an impact on me in my early teens. Out of all the books I read at that age, there are only a few that I remember titles to. "The Ghost of Dibble Hollow", "The Spoon River Anthology", and then this one: "A Fine and Private Place." I've even always remembered the author's name on this one - Peter S. Beagle.
Because this book came up over lunch today -- I can't even remember quite how we got there -- I had to go on Amazon and hunt it down and order myself a new copy so I can read it again. (Sadly it wasn't available as an e-book.) Though I may have more than one copy, the one I remember from my early years had a cover different than the one I just ordered. It showed the main character standing with his back to us dressed smart and dapper, with a Raven on his shoulder, and holding a flower behind his back. That copy is lost somewhere in the numerous crates of books stored in my studio/garage after half a dozen moves in my over four decades of adult life. My current house is too small to display all my books but I have fond dreams of renovating my studio/garage into a full blown library. Since the structure was built in the 1930s and never meant to house an SUV or Dodge Grand Caravan, I can not think of a more noble purpose than to properly house my books instead of harboring a tumble of crates.
It is quite a tribute to this author and his crafting of a tale well told when you consider I read this book at age fourteen and I still fondly recall it at the age of sixty-two. I suppose it caught my imagination due to the Raven stealing food to care for a man that was secreting himself away in a cemetery. And the fact that the man saw ghosts and engaged with them was right down my alley since I was wildly interested in all things paranormal at that age. It was one of the reasons my Mom brought the book home to me.
We lived in the country where I had nothing but trees and bugs and a faithful hound dog for company. Oh, and three brothers that I fought with as much as I got along with. Sibling silliness. So, imagination and reading was my thing and boy was I a voracious reader. While we were at school, once a week my Mom and our neighbor lady, Ruth, went on a shopping trip and one of their stops was always a fire sale place that had salvaged books. Mom would bring home a bag for me which I would descend on as if I had been handed a bag of sweets. Most had the covers ripped off so when there was one that actually had a cover, it definitely caught my eye. And that is how I came to know the characters of John Rebeck and the Raven.
In reading the opening paragraphs, I was properly intrigued and hooked. Now tell me, who wouldn't want to know why a Raven is stealing a stick of baloney from a delicatessen and flying off to a cemetery with it. And even more alluring was when I got to the part where I learned the Raven could speak. Did I say I was hooked? Somewhere in the pages of that delightful book I recall him saying, "Screwed like a lightbulb." It struck me as quite funny. So much so that I told my Mom about it.
I remember the deeper I went into the book, the more lost in the story that I became. It was all consuming for me. I read from the moment my eyes opened in the morning until I couldn't keep them open any more late at night. That was the way I was with reading if a book captivated me. This book certainly did that.
At meals I gushed about it so much that my Mom took notice. I wanted to blurt it all out about ghosts, the Raven, John but she shushed me. She decided she wanted to read it herself. I think that is the only time that I've ever known my Mom to read a book for fun. I was used to seeing her looking through cookbooks for pickling and canning instructions, or cake baking, or home remedy books for what she could use for whatever was ailing us at the moment. Doctor visits were expensive. Thankfully though, we four kids experienced nothing other than the usual childhood ailments and scrapes and bumps here and there. I would have loved to have torn out the page that recommended enemas for the belly ache we all had after eating apples that were too green. I know there were at least four kids in this world that would never eat green underripe apples again.
My Mom read the book and we would chat about what part she was up to. I think that very likely added to my fondness of this book. At a time when young girls begin to bloom into an independent feminine entity from their mothers and clash wildly, I had found something to bond me to my Mom. Sharing that book may have taken only a short while, but it made lasting memories and impressions. So, for that, I thank you Mr. Peter S. Beagle and Raven and John Rebeck and the rest of the characters of the book.
It is my hope for this book that it will one day be discovered and transformed into the magical and entertaining film that I know it could be. When it does, you can bet I will be in line for tickets and settled in with a large tub of popcorn and a drink.
So, if you haven't read "A Fine And Private Place" by Peter S. Beagle, I encourage you to do so. I can't wait for my new copy to arrive so I can retreat to a fine and private place of my own and revisit all the antics contained within its pages.