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... not my favorite of Beagle's collections of his shorter work.

In fact, it may be the weakest of them; the other ones all have at least one story apiece that leaves me totally gobsmacked and is The Reason I Go Reread That Book. This has some good things in it, but nothing that hit me over the head with its sheer awesome.

Oddly, the closest anything here came to doing that was 'The Bridge Partner', a totally non-fantastical noir piece which craves a black-and-white film adaptation by, say, Peter Weir. It's a school of horror I had not known Beagle subscribed to, the entirely human killer, and it gets immense mileage out of the fact that there are things people just do not socially do, except when they do, and then what can you do about it? I am not entirely sure about the ending, but I admire the thing as a whole.

I also liked 'The Rabbi's Hobby', which is a poignant little ghost story that is also quietly funny about how stressful it can be to prepare for your bar mitzvah when you simply cannot seem to learn Hebrew at all and are convinced you are going to bring shame on everyone in at least a four-mile radius.

And there's a story whose title I can't remember, about Cajun werewolves and how inconvenient it can be when your enemies bring themselves back from the dead, which I enjoyed immensely but which has the odd feeling of having gotten the wrong metaphysical address, somehow, of having been floating around in the aether and then making a strange choice of which head to enter. The thing is, if written by a young Poppy Z. Brite, it would have been over-the-top gonzo amazing; as it is it feels as though it was written by a young Poppy Z. Brite on kind of an off day. It is a really weird feeling to look at a Beagle story and say 'needs more gore and explicit homoeroticism', but in order to emotionally root itself it actually did.

Let's see what else, there's a very good story about the Berlin Wall; and an excellent and very different short horror piece called 'Dirae' which was written for an anthology about warriors, addresses the subject from a completely unexpected angle, and feels as though it was existentially meant to be written by George R. R. Martin. And there's a Schmendrick-when-he-was-young story, and if you love Schmendrick there he is, and you should read it, and if you don't know him already I doubt it will make a lick of sense. And there's another story in the world of The Innkeeper's Song, but not one with anyone we already knew about, and it's okay but not blazing.

The rest is minor and sometimes minor to the point of aggravation, there's a piece in here called 'Oakland Dragon Blues' that is sufficiently actively bad that I had some difficulty in finishing it. The title story of the book leaves me utterly cold and wondering what the point was supposed to be.

Quite a lot of this collection is horror, more than is straight fantasy, more than I expected, and just about everything that is good would be classifiable that way. I am now wondering where else he is going to go along those lines, because it is entertaining and I'd love to see a novel of that type from him.

Mind you, I'd like another Beagle novel, period. The short story collections, even though I have liked all the previous ones better than this one, just aren't as good. He alludes in an introduction here to a novel being along presently, which makes me happy, if it should turn out to be the case.

In the meantime, as I've said this is my least favorite of his collections, which means it is only very good and you should go read it because he is a major writer and even his failures are interesting, at least to read once through. I just suspect I won't end up rereading this one anything like as often.


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March 2017

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