Author: Jess Walter
Published: Harper; June 2012
Synopsis: The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out 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.
My Take: I have heard people raving about Jess Walter in the past but I haven't read one of his novels before. Then Beautiful Ruins came out, and my God, that cover! Seriously, it makes me want to go to Italy right now! So I put it on my (albeit paltry) must read list for this summer and got down to it. It's hard to even put in to words the awesomeness that unfolds.
Walter's latest novel is, I would say, at its heart, about many people and the way that their lives affect each other. How the choices we make, however snap they may seem, can have ripple affects for years to come. Beautiful Ruins begins in Italy in 1962 in a small nothing of a town just outside of Cinque Terra. Pasquale is a young innkeeper looking to bring the prosperity of the ages to his dying seaside town. Somehow, as if by magic, a movie star shows up to be squirreled away in his hotel, aptly named, Hotel Adequate View. This young actress, Dee Moray, has some health problems so it was thought that the relaxation might do her some good. She had been working in Rome on the disaster movie production that was Cleopatra (btw, this book totally made me want to watch this movie!).
Now, we then fast forward to the present where an aging Michael Deane, famous movie producer from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s is now trying to find his next big hit and his assistant Claire are working hard together to find some semblance of meaning in their lives. Or perhaps that's just Claire. Michael is just worried about his next big hit. When a blast from the past greets them at their door and a mystery begins to unfold in front of them.
At first, Beautiful Ruins was a little slow for me and I didn't know if I would be able to stick with it. This story needs a lot of set up though and once you get through the first 50 pages or so a magical and intense ride awaits you through the last 60 years of life. See, Walter takes you back and forth from Italy, the LA, to Seattle, London, Edinburgh, and finally even small town Idaho, as we learn the twist and turns of these people's lives and how they have all intersected through the years. We only get snippets in each chapter, yet each chapter leaves you wanting more and you know that by the end you will have learned it all and it is well worth waiting for the end. Seriously, it was unlike anything I had read before.
Simply put, I loved it.
Cover Lust: Like I said at the beginning, probably one of my favorite covers in a long time!