By Dan Clendenin
Peter S. Beagle, In Calabria: A Novel (San Francisco: Tachyon, 2017), 174pp.
Peter Beagle (b. 1939) has written three dozen works of fiction, non-fiction, and autobiography. In this new fantasy novella, he returns to the mythic creature that made him famous back in 1968 with the publication of his book The Last Unicorn (five million copies sold). That best-selling novel was made into a movie, put Beagle on the short lists of best fantasy writers, and kick-started a fifty-year career in which he has earned numerous literary awards.
Claudio Bianchi is a cantankerous man who works a rundown farm on a forsaken hillside in the toe of the Italian boot (thus the title of the book). He has a reputation among the villagers as a “bad-tempered hermit.” He lives alone, cuts his own hair, mends his own clothes, and is “inhabiting a life that he is perfectly aware could have been a nineteenth century life.” It has been ages since he saw a movie or went to a doctor.
Bianchi also has a soft side. He recites famous poems to his farm animals, and also writes his own poetry. One morning he sees a unicorn in his vineyard that turns out to be pregnant. He understands the unicorn to be “the one miracle of my life,” a reminder of his “lost freedoms,” and calls her La Signora. The unicorn never speaks, but has eyes “huge with understanding” that “reached to the furthest recesses of his heart.” He began to write poetry much more freely, and took a shine to Giovanna, the sister of his mailman who was also only half his age.
Then the troubles started. First two reporters, then a film crew, then an endless stream of cars, cameras, helicopters, and animal rights protesters complete with lawyers. Worst of all, there came a “monster” who was part of the dreaded Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta (mafia). Only in the last few pages do we learn the fate of Claudio, Giovanna, and La Signora. One thing is for sure — in the presence of the magical powers of the unicorn, Bianchi “did not seem to care about being afraid.”
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