Eugene (or just plain Gene) Mirabelli is the author of nine novels. His literary production has been rich and varied. There is his non-fiction work, his reviews, interviews and opinion pieces, focusing primarily on politics, economics and science, and there is his short fiction — those engaging science-fiction and fantasy tales which have been published here and in Europe. But his novel writing has always been his deepest and richest work.
The author’s last six novels, each one a stand-alone fiction, compose a mosaic which becomes visible only when all the pieces are together. The fourth of these works, The Goddess in Love with a Horse, is a series of cascading tales stretching from the 19th century in Sicily into the 20th century in Boston. It provides a genealogy of the extended Cavallù family, those men and women who were “known for being handsome, quick-witted and rash” and who fill the pages of Mirabelli’s other works. His most recent two novels are Renato the Painter, and it’s sequel, Renato After Alba.
Ten years after the conclusion of Renato Stillamare’s defiant confessions in Renato, the Painter, Alba, his beloved wife of fifty years dies without warning, and the blow leaves him in pieces. When he resumes his narrative, the larger-than-life artist has been reduced to a gray existence of messy confusion — broken belief, crazy hope, desperate philosophy. A man of fragments but still an artist, he assembles a collage of scenes of life with and without Alba, recollections of his eccentric Sicilian–American family, encounters with well meaning friends, daily attempts at resuming his former life, and metaphysical railings against any deity capable of destroying what it has created. In Renato After Alba, the deepest sorrow is not merely lacerating, outrageous, heart-rending, and tragic, but also for someone so completely human as the enduring Renato, touchingly comic. And miraculously beautiful in its astonishment.
Renato, the Painter was awarded the top prize in the 2013 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book awards. That year the number one spot in the literary fiction category was a tie, and Eugene Mirabelli’s novel shared top honors. The Awards program was created to highlight the year’s most distinguished books from independent publishers.
An additional honor came later — in a twenty-year round up for a summer reading list, Renato, the Painter, was chosen as the best of the best from 2013.
The following review is from the premiere source that critics and book sellers alike rely on, Shelf Awareness . . .
As is the case with many first-person novels, the hero of Eugene Mirabelli’s Renato, the Painter is a foundling. When a baby appears on the doorstep of Bianca and Fidele Stilamare, they name the child Renato—Italian for “reborn”—and he grows up to become an artist whose fine work has failed to receive the accolades it deserves. (The same might also be said of Mirabelli himself.)
This sequel to earlier Mirabelli novels like The Passion of Teri Heart and The Goddess in Love with a Horse is a powerful, life-affirming story, a lusty, bawdy, hilarious romp through life as recounted by Renato in his old age. As a young boy, Renato enjoyed reading one of the few books in the Italian immigrant family’s home: Benvenuto Cellini’s Autobiography. As he grows up, his love of girls, then women, then drawing and painting, grows stronger and stronger until he feels he must devote his life to them (all of them). He marries, but that doesn’t go well; although he loves his wife deeply, they remain apart–closely apart, that is, on opposite sides of Boston’s Charles River, which only makes their relationship more hilarious and frustrating.
Later, a young woman, Avalon, the daughter of a close and dear friend, comes along with her son Kim. Renato just wants to help her out, but their relationship gradually evolves into something tender and beautiful: “Her hand glided from my shoulder to my flank with a caution so gentle it startled, she had a vigorous embrace and such tenderly inquisitive fingers as to doom a young man to her touch, and I was grateful to be old.” Mirabelli’s lovely, poetic prose, which fills his characterization of Renato to its brim, is a joy.
“Looking back, I’m baffled that I haven’t done better,” Renato reflects. “I don’t mean painting; I’ve done all right painting even if nobody knows it. But I could have given more time to my friends, could have listened more and complained less, could have been more generous to everyone.” Renato has done well, has lived and loved, and has served his mentor Cellini very well indeed.
—Tom Lavoie Shelf Talker: Once you’ve read this lovely novel, you’ll be hunting down the rest of Mirabelli’s stories, which form an extended history of the fictional Cavallu clan.