Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


Pages: 337
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 12, 2012
Source: Library
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks on over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying. And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot-searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier. What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion-along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.  Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams."

Dee Moray, a Hollywood actress, is filming Cleopatra and the year is 1962.  During filming, she becomes very sick and the studio sends her to a no-name Italian seaside town (nothing like glamourous Positano or Sorrento) and while there she befriends the the owner of the hotel she is staying out.  Pasquale is immediately entranced by Dee, but comes to find that she is dying.  However, the story doesn't just focus on just Pasquale and Dee. There's also a producer, his assistant, an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter, and an alcoholic war veteran who comes to Pasquale's hotel every year to write.  Somehow Jess Walter weaves the plots and subplots of Beautiful Ruins dazzlingly and all the characters' stories intertwine seamlessly.  

Part of Beautiful Ruins focuses on Pasquale and his infatuation with the American starlet, Dee.  Even though she seems beautiful and young, he comes to find that she is seriously sick, or so he thought.  Their friendship and his feelings for her blossom from their long talks while at his hotel aptly named Hotel Adequate View. I really liked the story of Dee and Pasquale; readers should know that there's more than meets the eye with Dee.  
Legendary producer, Michael Deane's is also a focus in Beautiful Ruins as well as his assistant, Claire. She is also a fascinating character and her story is told in present day, unlike Pasquale and Dee's.  Claire represents a lot of younger people who feel they are stuck in a dead-end job and a dead-end relationship.  Although she admires Michael Deane and his accomplishments, lately his work has taken him down a different path: reality television.  She wants something more for herself and has been interviewing around; however, things start to get complicated when a turn of events occurs. Interestingly enough, readers also get to learn more about Michael Deane, his career and how it is interwined with Dee and Pasquale's story.
There are a a lot of other secondary characters, such as Alvis Bender, a writer who visits Pasquale's hotel every year to write, but spends most of that time drinking heavily.  He is a veteran and his novel is about WWII, but after all these years, he only has a chapter completed. What is so mesmorizing about Beautiful Ruins is the fact that we get to read Bender's story along with other stories referenced throughout the novel, such as the aspiring screen-writer's tale about the Donner Party. There are many, many more secondary characters (even Richard Burton makes an appearance!) that at first seem to not fit in the overall story; however, trust Walter, because it all works in the end.

For me, the best parts of Beautiful Ruins deal with Michael Deane and his role in Cleopatra as well as his role in the relationship between Dee and Pasquale. He's such a fascinating character and one of my favorites.  I really enjoyed that particular portion of the plot.
I don't want to go into anymore detail regarding the plot of Beautiful Ruins, because I would end up hinting at too many surprises which are hidden within this tale.  Trust that this story, although it seems all over the place with the many characters and time periods, is beautiful, captivating, funny, and smart.  Beautiful Ruins is the kind of story that you need to stick with though and trust the author from the start.
Walter is a truly talented writer. There are many lines that I thought were so memorable. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • "Sometimes what we want to do and what we must do are not the same. Pasquo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.” 
  • “His life was two lives now: the life he would have and the life he would forever wonder about.” 
  • “A writer needs four things to achieve greatness, Pasquale: desire, disappointment, and the sea.”
    “That’s only three.” Alvis finished his wine. “You have to do disappointment twice.” 
  • “I think so, too. I know I felt that way. For years. It was as if I was a character in a movie and the real action was about to start at any minute. But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.” 
  • "Stories are people. I'm a story, you're a story . . . your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we're lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we're less alone.”

Beautiful Ruins was just published in paperback form last month and it would be great to bring along with you to the pool or beach this summer, especially if you are looking for a smart read. I think Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins could easily be a "modern classic." Highly recommended.

14 comments:

  1. This one sounds way better than I expected! I'm glad that you liked it so much! I see that you're going to read How My Summer Went Up In Flames next! Loved that book!

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    1. I am looking forward to reading it! Thanks for dropping by, Christianna!

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  2. I couldn't agree more with your review! I loved this book and it's the best beach read! I might just have to read it again this summer! :)

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    1. Thanks, Danielle! I hope you get to read it again. Thanks for visiting!

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  3. I bought this book a few months ago, and now it's sitting on my shelf. I love when an author can weave so many different stories together so effortlessly. Thanks for the review, I have to put this one higher on my shelf!

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    1. Walter does a fabulous job with weaving all the stories together. He's so talented! I hope you get to read it soon! Thanks for visiting, Andrea!

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  4. This sounds like such a good read! I know I will love the Hollywood aspect of it all. This one has been on my summer reading list since last summer, so hopefully I'll get around to reading it this summer. (Uh, along with Sarah Dessen!)

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    1. You definitely need to read some Dessen and this book this summer. I think you will like both. Thanks for visiting, Leanna!

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  5. So glad you liked it. I want to check this one out. It's in my TBL waiting for the right time.

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    1. I think you'd like it, Juju! I hope you get to read it soon. Thanks for dropping by!

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  6. This one sounds intriguing! I love the cover for it - so pretty :)

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    1. Me too. The cover is gorgeous. Thanks for visiting, Lea!

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  7. I've heard a lot of great things about this book and I fell in love with the cover instantly! Glad you enjoyed it!

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  8. The first few reviews I read for this book were excellent, but I wasn't interested. But all of these awesome reviews are wearing me down and I amy have to pick this one up.

    Dwayne Johnston (Seattle DUI Attorney)

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I really appreciate your comments. Thank you!

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