A 70-year-old painter looks back on a life of women and art and ponders the present-day challenges of aging in this loose-limbed narrative.
This is the third Mirabelli (The Goddess in Love with a Horse, 2008, etc.) novel involving members of the Italian-American Cavallù-Stillamare clan, which Renato joined as a foundling in 1930. Family features prominently in the painter’s memories, as do friends, food, and lovers, for all of which he has a hearty appetite into his seventh decade and speaks of warmly. On the sex side, he has: teacher-related fantasies in the fifth grade; a rich marriage that is a fine little love story in itself; a threesome that produces a child he and his wife semi-adopt; and various flings. Yet when the book focuses on his present life at 70, he’s living in relative isolation in his Boston studio while his wife, Alba, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is ostensibly so Renato can focus on painting, but there are suggestions of connubial friction. The marital tensions aren’t improved when a former student’s daughter and her child move into the studio, though the book benefits from a bit of suspense: will he kick her out before or after he sleeps with her? The other thread tugging a reader through is Renato’s halting efforts to get a gallery show, something he hasn’t had in some 30 years, though he and others reckon he’s one of the best painters around. Things look good when a hot dealer shows interest, but she proves hard to nail down. There’s also some suspense concerning Renato’s prostate, among the many pains of aging. What there’s strangely little of from this voluble, engaging, intelligent character is specific talk about art and painting as craft, about color, space, technique, brush stroke, history, influences.
It’s possible to emerge from this fictional memoir of a colorful, irascible but likable painter with almost no idea of what he paints, and that’s frustrating.