(Tachyon, $14.95, 231 pages; trade paperback, published in August 2006.)
In his story collection The Line Between, fantasist Peter S. Beagle leaves no doubt that he is, first and foremost, a novelist. With a few exceptions -- most notably, four short fables -- the stories in this volume yearn for the space and scope of novels. Beagle himself often mentions that novel versions are in the works.
Nevertheless, although some tales feel somewhat incomplete, they display a deep sense of empathy, evocative imaginative flourishes, and a wry wit.
'Two Hearts" -- a poignant meeting between a young girl who is awakening to the hero within herself and an aged king who must perform his final heroic deed -- is a return to the world of his classic novel The Last Unicorn.
"Gordon, the Self-Made Cat" is a clever and hilarious tale of a mouse who decides to become a cat.
"A Dance for Emilia" -- an explicitly semi-autobiographical tale -- regrettably also ventures into fantasy. The beginning, told in realist mode, is quite moving and effective, but after the death of one of the protagonists the tale degenerates into an embarrassingly silly and maudlin ghost story in which the dead man possesses the body of his aged cat.
In the collection's strongest story, "Salt Wine", Beagle creates a world only slightly askew from our own -- the main difference being the existence of merfolk. Emotionally intense, rich with world-building details, and recounted in a stirring voice, this tale of a sailor's deal-gone-wrong with a merman is as wildly inventive as it is dark and creepy.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 2 September 2006, 23 June 2007