The first time Ava saw Angelo naked was on their wedding night (11 May 1860) when he strode into their bedroom,accidentally revealing to her startled eyes that from the waist down he had the hindquarters of a stallion. That’s the opening line and this is no ordinary story. Critic and author Robert Viscusi has said, “it’s a magical novel. His characters are paragons of beauty and superhuman desire that might have stepped out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Like the best magical realists, Mirabelli makes even the most startling transformations seem natural, even inevitable.”
The Goddess in Love with a Horse (And What Happened Next) is about two entangled families — one from the island of Sicily and the other from Calabria (the toe of the Italian boot) — who emigrate to Boston where they marry and infuse their startling heritage into the New England culture. Angelo (man from the waist up, horse from the waist down) is the origin of one family, while the other derives from Stella, a woman (a goddess, in fact) so beautiful her looks could stun. We confess that chance has placed Stella in a bordello; sometimes life does that.
The Goddess in Love with a Horse begins in Sicily in 1860, takes in the almost comic horrors of Sicilian history, disembarks in Massachusetts in the late nineteenth century, and concludes in Boston near the present. The novel is a series of linked episodes — each episode a charming short story in itself — and taken all together they display the gritty details of life at the edge without allowing the story to succumb to dull realism. The longest of these narratives, the story of Aldo and his Irish wife Molly, is typical of the book as a whole in the way it weaves hard fact with engaging fiction, the actual history of flight in the early years of the 20th century combined with the romance of flying in the ramshackle aircraft of 1910, plus the love of these two quite different people — Molly, the tough girl from Ireland and Aldo, the Sicilian who dreams of flying. This is a fanciful tale grounded in reality. The eminent sociologist Richard Alba describes the book this way: “The Goddess in Love with a Horse is a wonderfully imagined and entirely new sort of immigration novel, which mixes the mythologically rich soil of Sicily with the pragmatic grit of economic success and assimilation in America to produce a stunning hybrid of a story.”
The distinguished author Nicholas Delbanco said it most succinctly: “This book is a delight from first to final page.”