A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

From the bookback:

“One of the most unusual and charming “ghost stories” ever written, A Fine and Private Place introduces readers to Michael Morgan, an ordinary man in an ordinary life . . . who is not quite ready to be dead. And until he is ready, Michael finds himself trapped between this world and what comes next. He is able to speak only with Mr. Rebeck, the eccentric recluse who lives in a nearby mausoleum, and with an ornery raven–until Laura arrives, ready to take up residence in the cold earth of her grave. . . .

“Together, they learn the boundaries of life and death, and the extraordinary gifts of love.

This delightful little book was first published in, I believe, 1960, the year I graduated high school, but I probably didn’t read it until several years later while I was working at University of Florida’s Metallurgy Department. I was so young and inexperienced and didn’t quite know what to do with myself during lunch hours, so I spent a lot of time in the campus bookstore a few blocks away from my office. That’s where I found it, and–as a UofF staff member received a 15% discount on its purchase price (which, I assure you, was much lower those days).

I liked it so much that I kept it around for what seemed forever, and years later lent it out after I’d implored Hubby to read it. (I think he liked it, too.) It made the rounds of several of my friends before, eventually, it failed to make its way back home, and for a long time it was “out of sight, out of mind.”

Recently, during a visit from a friend in Las Vegas who is always open to new places to discover, I found myself in a local cemetery that I’d been wanting to visit for as long as I’ve lived here (two years), but never had the opportunity. It’s directly across from the UofU’s Rice-Eccles Stadium where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics took place. The cemetery is shaded with large, lush trees and many varieties of old tombstones. Several Woodsmen of the World members chose memorials that look like cuttings from tree trunks, some of the more modern ones have photographs of the departed (which my friend found a bit creepy, but I liked), and of course the stately looking mausoleums.

We were very surprised to find there were many, many Jewish names scattered about. A little subsequent research and much digging around, however, provided an  explanation. Here’s a sampling from an article that was first published in the Olympics Official Program by Terry Tempest Williams. You can find the full article, including the exerpt, here. If you’re a history buff or like cemeteries, like me, you’ll find it quite compelling.

Mt. Olivet Cemetery . . . was the first cemetery created by an act of Congress. It was established through an initiative of five Protestant denominations, which induced the Secretary of War to grant 20 acres of land from the reservation of Fort Douglas (site of this year’s Olympic Village for athletes). This was during a fretful time in Utah history, when Mormons and non-Mormons were having almost daily clashes over issues of commerce, polygamy, statehood and politics in general. Some 30 years after Brigham Young, upon seeing the Salt Lake Valley for the first time, had said, “This is the right place,” non-Mormons felt they wanted their own right place to rest in peace.

To cut to the conclusion of this ever-growing diatribe, as I read the inscriptions I was suddenly reminded of Peter Beagle’s book, which led to an Internet search that in turn led to a new book purchase (less than $7 including postage). Yesterday, my new but used copy of A Fine and Private Place arrived. I will only add that Beagle has been compared to both Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien. I believe that’s as apt a description as any, and I can’t wait until I have time for a re-read 40-odd years later.

3 thoughts on “A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

  1. Pingback: While Awaiting our Heavenly Summons « Wintersong

  2. I read A Fine and Private Place almost 50 years ago, and I have never forgotten it. I still remember the humorous crow who delivered messages. I am delighted to find this blog …. especially since you have a discussion of Maurice Stanley’s book on Nance Dude. I’m the fellow who wrote the play based on Maurice’s book and the author used to come to performances and talk to the audience.

    • Nice to make your acquaintance Mr. Carden. I think the book says much with so many layers. That’s why I think it still resonates after all these years. I was interested to learn recently that Mr. Beagle is still living as I haven’t heard much about him for a long time. As for Serpent Slips into Eden and your play about Nance Dude, if I’m ever in the area when and where it’s produced, I’ll be in the audience as near the front as possible. Thanks for your interest.

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