“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter

ISBN-13: 9780061928178 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 4/2/2013 Series: P.S. Edition description: Reprint Pages: 337

ISBN-13: 9780061928178
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/2/2013
Series: P.S.
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 337


This is a beautiful book – one that can be relished from cover to cover: the story, the writing, the characters – everything exudes charm, warmth, and humor.  The story begins circa 1962 in Italy during filming of Cleopatra, the notorious costly flop starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  An unknown extra actress, Dee Moray, takes sick leave from the film and shows up in the tiny cliff-strewn coastal town of Porto Vergogna.  Here she meets Pasquale, the humble innkeeper of The Hotel Adequate View.  According to Pasquale, it was love at first sight – not so much him with the actress as with the moment that could last forever.  The story jumps around over five decades and two continents: 1962 Italy; contemporary Hollywood; 1967 Seattle; 2008 Edinburgh; and recent Sandpoint, Idaho.  A few side stories even take place during World War II and the Donner Party excursion in 1847.  Each of these pieces of cloth the author sews into a quilt, as he answers questions, reveals lives and loves lost and found, and fates mislaid and redeemed.

The central characters are memorable: the delightful, romantic, and idealistic Pasquale with his crotchety relatives and crass “friends”; lovely and beautiful Dee Moray with her artistic pursuits; Shane Wheeler, the aspiring screen-writer, whose secret to success is the fake-it-till-you-make-it mantra: “Act!”; Claire, a high-brow film buff, who is stuck with a womanizing, slacker boyfriend and a soul-sapping job assisting a past-prime movie producer named Michael Deane.  Deane – who’s had so much plastic surgery “he resembles a dying man with the face of a nine-year-old Philipino girl” – is now in a career slump, so Claire spends her time hearing pitches for reality shows like Drunk Midget House. Just like the beautiful ruins of the Italian coast, the characters navigate the rocky shores of their lives, while clinging to the improbability of their dreams.  We are even treated to a cameo performance by the most beautiful ruin of them all: Richard Burton.

Walter’s engaging storytelling and evocative writing style are infused with humor, but not with laugh-out-loud one-liners. Instead it’s a wise humor that is full of understanding, both funny and sad at the same time, so that while reading a smile creases your face and a simultaneous tear wets your eye.  You are left with a sweet, lingering warmth in your heart.

Bryan will be reviewing “Beautiful Ruins” on WZZM Channel 13 Take Five morning show at 9:00am Monday, May 5.  Please join us for the Book Nook Book Club at 6:00pm Monday, May 5 at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague.


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