Friday, July 06, 2007

A Fine and Private Place

After reading a couple of disappointing books, I thought I'd reread A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle.

The title is a part of a line from Andrew Marvell's poem, "To His Coy Mistress." The entire line reads, "The grave's a fine and private place, But none I think do there embrace."

In this modern ghost story the dead don't go to heaven or hell. They just hang around the cemetery and slowly fade away. Some cling to what they remember life as being like; those ghosts may linger for a few weeks or months before subsiding into a ghostly sleep. In the summer of 1958 two ghosts, Michael and Laura, meet and spend time together trying to recapture what they didn't have while alive. Their one living friend is Mr. Jonathan Rebeck, a former druggist who has been living as a recluse in a mausoleum in Yorkchester Cemetery for nineteen years. Mr. Rebeck is fed by a raven - a talking raven - every day. (I still think that raven is pretty clever - a little bit of Elijah and a little bit of Poe.)

A widow, Mrs. Klapper, meets Mr. Rebeck in the cemetery one day when she visits her husband's grave. She begins to come more often to visit her husband's grave, and always manages to see Jonathan Rebeck, too. He starts to seriously consider rejoining the world beyond the cemetery gates in order to have a normal life and get to know Mrs. Klapper.

Michael and Laura argue and fight, but they end up in love with one another in a pale, ghostly way, and that love they have for each other is what finally gets Rebeck out of the cemetery and back to real life.

I'd remembered this book as a clever, witty, fun summer read. I was 15 then, and am 46 now, so it wasn't as hilarious as I'd remembered. And I was not a Christian then, so the blue language I noticed this time around slid right by me before.

Still, I don't know of another book that fits the description of fantasy/romance/ghost story as well as A Fine and Private Place does.



Blogger Jeannine said...

That does sound very interesting. I find too that books and/or movies that I thought were great years ago, I no longer care for, and things that wouldn't have appealed to me then, I now like. It makes it difficult sometimes to recommend things.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Steve Emery said...

I also enjoyed this book, though I came to it for the first time about ten years ago, in my thirties.

It is a strange experience to reread a book from our teen years. So much has changed. Even rereading something from my twenties can be startling, but nothing like the contrast with my impressions as a teenage. The American Scholar used to publish a column, written by a different literary person every month, that was called "Rereading." The whole point was to reread something from years (and life changes) before and then compare the two readings. They were wonderful articles. I enjoyed your post in the same way.

10:12 AM  

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