Sunday, July 08, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #189: In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle has written about unicorns before, of course.

I mean, yeah, The Last Unicorn obviously, but he also co-edited an entire anthology about the horned fellas back in the '90s and I'm pretty sure has used them in short fiction at other points. So I'm not going to make a big deal about His Return to Unicorns here.

That's not what In Calabria is about, first of all: it's not set in a world anything like Last Unicorn, or with a plot anything like that book. It's a novella about one man prematurely old -- he's only forty-seven! I'm already older than that! -- working a small farm in the rocky toe of Italy's boot, alone and happy or resigned to it, when something extraordinary happens to him.

He falls in love -- real love -- with a woman who loves him back.

Oh, and a unicorn decides to give birth on his farm. That's pretty important, too.

But falling in love -- opening up to another person, and more generally to life and the rest of the world -- is more important. And maybe that's why the unicorn chose his farm, or maybe the love is just catalyzed by the unicorn. Either way works.

This is a short book -- again, it's a novella. So I'm not going to get into details of plot. Claudio Bianchi has his small farm, with a collection of animals. His contact with humanity as the book opens is almost entirely through the thrice-weekly visits of his postman, Romano Muscari. Romano's kid sister Giovanna takes over one of those days before too long. And that unicorn appears: first seen by just Claudio, then GIovanna, and then rumored to the whole world, leading to the usual complications: media, tourists, wonder-seekers and the unscrupulous and nasty looking to profit.

And, of course, it's by Peter Beagle. So it's wry and thoughtful and filled with his special way with words: a lovely, true fable of a unicorn in one of the most unlikely corners of our modern world.

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