The Burning Air, by Eugene Mirabelli
a review by Rich Hortonhere) and The Goddess in Love with a Horse followed. Margaret died suddenly in 2010, and Renato the Painter was published soon afterwards. In 2003 he had published a very fine story in F&SF, "The Only Known Jump Across Time", and several other SF and Fantasy stories followed, in F&SF, Asimov's, and Not One of Us. (I reprinted three of these stories, in my Best of the Year volumes and in Lightspeed.) Gene is still alive at 92.
It's a short novel, just under 40,000 words. It's told by a young man named George, who is visiting his girlfriend Giulia Molla's parents for the first time, with the intention of getting their approval for the couple to marry. But the novel's first sentence tells us how it's going to end: "The last time I saw Guilia was at the train station in Bayfield." The rest of the book tells the story of a seemingly rather nice weekend, but over it all hangs a sort of dread as the reader knows that George and Guilia's relationship is doomed.
Both young people are Italian-Americans, nominally Catholic, well-educated. There may be hints to fissures early in some of that -- does George's name as opposed to Giulia's hint his family is more assimilated? (After all Giulia's grandmother insists on calling him Giorgio -- but also, Giulia's teenaged brother is named Michael. And, we learn eventually, the Molla's have been in the US much longer than George's family.) George may have been raised Catholic, but he never goes to Mass, and indeed Giulia conspires to skip Mass this weekend. As for education, George is working as a free-lance journalist, but vows to get a teaching job if his finances remain vulnerable; while Giulia has a chance for a graduate fellowship in Italy, which her mother desperately wants her to attend. But there are other issues -- the couple have been dating for about three years, but for a period they had broken up, and Giulia had had another boyfriend, of whom George is very jealous. They are sleeping together -- and they take the chance to make love a couple of times over the weekend -- but it's clear they feel a bit guilty about doing this knowing that Giulia's mother and grandmother, at least, are very opposed to premarital sex.
The weekend involves some awkward conversations between George and the rest of Giulia's family -- as he helps her father do yard work (and fixes the lawnmower), as he washes some dishes, goes to the beach with Giulia and Michael, visits with married friends of Giulia, shares a big family dinner, and as the two tell Mr and Mrs Molla of their plans to marry. Mr Molla gives his approval though Mrs Molla is clearly against it. But Giulia and George are determined, almost to the point of eloping. And in the end -- which is ambiguous in a sense but clearly a true end as the first sentence indicates -- it seems that the real problem is with George himself.
This is a fine first novel, though I'd say clearly a first novel, and not wholly successful. The structure is elegant, but the long middle does drag just a bit, though the events portrayed are all important. The conclusion is strong and moving, as George seems to ultimately shy away from trusting himself. This isn't by any means Mirabelli's best work, but it's a good debut that presaged a strong and varied career -- though I'm not sure Mirabelli's novels ever had broad commercial success.