Multigenerational novel of a Sicilian clan that leaves a memorable stamp in the old country and the new.
Like Pietro di Donato, whose Christ in Concrete is now a largely forgotten classic of the Italian American experience, Mirabelli has attracted a small but dedicated readership. His new novel—made up of three parts previously published as The Goddess in Love With a Horse (2008), Renato, the Painter (2012), and Renato After Alba (2016), which have been combined and revised—merits wide attention. The first section is an exercise in magic realism, an improbable genealogy of the Cavallù clan, its name suggestive of horses—and indeed, the progenitor is half horse. Says Angelo, a simple miller, to his astonished bride, “God created horses just to show us what He could do in the way of power and beauty, and when He finished, He admired His handiwork.” Of course, adds Mirabelli, that’s perfectly in keeping with the Sicilian bloodline and its mishmash of Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Jews, and other Mediterraneans. Another young man, swept up in the turmoil of the Garibaldian revolution, entreats a sea goddess very much like Aphrodite to marry him, begetting the lineage that leads to our title character, adopted into the Cavallù-Stillamare clan, whose patriarch believes that “his children were born with the talent to write a sonnet, drive a car, draw, dance or fight, the same as they were born with the capacity to speak and sing.” Renato is a touch more limited; though a brilliant artist, he doesn’t have much luck placing his work, and a long-unfolding battle with an almost stereotypically arrogant gallery owner is a central episode in the middle section. Renato has a huge heart, though, taking in a street waif of otherworldly ancestry and her child. In the bargain, Renato constantly tries the patience of his wife, Alba, an absent but tutelary presence in the last section, when Renato is old, widowed, and lonely: “I had kept hoping to die but it hadn’t happened and after a while I gave up trying and pretended to live, just doing the things that living people do.”
A bittersweet, beautiful story that, improbable though some of it may be, speaks wisely to life’s truths.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 592
Publisher: McPherson & Company
Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020