The Goddess in Love with a Horse (And What Happened Next) chronicles the history of the Cavallu/di Mare family. Family members - hence the tale itself - combine mythology and science in all their aspects and complexities. The families start out in Sicily and Calabria respectively before immigrating to the United States. We first meet Ava and her new husband, Angelo Cavallu, on their wedding night. Angelo gives Ava a shock when she sees that he is a centaur: human on top and horse on the bottom. He reassures her that if they make love enough childbirth will be easy, her milk will be sweet, and she will be beautiful forever.
Then in Calabria, Franco Morelli, a rationalist, falls in love with Stella di Mare, a goddess who is working in a bordello. Franco wants to marry Stella, but she first insists he must watch her work for an evening, and then come tell her what he saw - and then ask her again. The story continues with one of Angelo’s grandsons marrying one of Stella’s granddaughters on a Boston dock.
Eugene Mirabelli weaves the lives of his characters with the history of Sicily and Calabria, such as the appearance of Garibaldi intent on freeing Sicily from foreign rule. Here, too, myth plays a role, as many of Garibaldi’s battles seem to be won by magic. We also learn about Boston in the early 20th century: the Italians and Irish, their crafts, and how they lived.
Pacifico, Angelo’s grandson, and Marianna, Stella’s granddaughter, intertwine the two families forever and move the story to America. In America, too, we meet Aldo, Stella’s grandson, who has a fascination for airplanes and flight. He tells the myth of Daedalus and Icarus to Molly, his Irish wife, and his yearning for flight mirrors the need to flee from oppression in Sicily. Aldo possesses the imagination and creativity to build an airplane, a mechanical and scientific machine.
Mirabelli uses a narrative style to tell his story, but readers must pay close attention to keep track of the genealogy. We learn more about some characters than others, and the story jumps around more than my personal preference. Mirabelli touches on sexually explicit ideas but doesn’t introduce the details as so many modern novels do.
He writes with deceptively simple words to illustrate more complex events, ideas, and scientific phenomena. It’s more like listening to someone tell family stories than reading them for yourself. From centaurs to airplanes and ghosts to time machines, Mirabelli covers a lot of territory. Some of his characters, especially those relating to science, are real people, which makes it much easier to believe in Stella the goddess, Angelo the centaur, and magic itself.