The question here is how to go on after the death of a loved one with a life so seemingly empty yet still filled with family, friends, and the remnants of years devoted to art.
In this painful sequel to the author’s Renato, the Painter (2012), etc., and the fourth book featuring the Cavalu-Stillamare clan, the artist at 83 confronts the loss of Alba, his beloved wife, a woman with whom he first made love when he was 17. After a plaintive opening lament, “this defective memoir,” written three to four years after the death, tells of how Renato joined the clan as a foundling, one of many passages that largely repeat material from the previous book. Then he returns briefly to the 20 hours of painful torment Alba suffered until death came before shifting again to the succor of other memories, of childhood, family gatherings, and how the family and one’s circle of friends have changed with the passage of time. Grief is an awful thing, and Mirabelli conveys it sometimes awkwardly, as when a paragraph consists of the word “Die” repeated 120 times in Renato’s verbal bid to join his wife. Other times the author is touching and persuasive, as in the inventory of “all her little private things” in a purse he finds while disposing of Alba’s clothing. Renato finds comfort with family and friends and then a new friendship with a barista who lost her husband to brain cancer. What he doesn’t do is paint, something he couldn’t not do in the previous book. But art won’t let him go. A major exhibition begins to take shape, revealing a chance yet for healing a deeply wounded heart.
Repetitions from the previous book and the sometimes-artless echoes of the artist’s grieving inflate and mar what is still an affecting look at memory, loss, and love.