Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by
Hardcover, 337 pages
Beautiful Ruins
Rating: 8/10


On the coast of Italy in 1962, Pasquale Tursi is working to make his desolate inn more hospitable and glamorous to Americans when a boat arrives, carrying a dying American starlet who will change his life forever. Meanwhile, in current day Hollywood, some rather hapless film producers are working to find a new project to finance when an old man shows up, demanding answers as to what happened fifty years ago to start his life spiralling out the way it did. Various other characters are woven into the story in surprising ways, as all of the characters look to see what caused their ruins and try to emerge from them into better lives.

Reason for Reading

I saw a lot of buzz about this one around Twitter.

Why you should read this book

Despite the cameo appearance of a real-life legend of the stage and screen, the real star of this book is Pasquale. As he grasps with growing feelings for the beautiful young American, complicated by her own feelings for someone else, he finds his feelings of chivalry frustrated by his own inadequacies in the past. Pasquale is definitely the most developed character, acting as the glue to hold together characters spanning a lifetime. The 60s setting is full of beauty and wonder, hopes and dreams, all pervaded by an underlying tone of isolation and longing. The modern setting is a little darker and a lot more shallow in terms of lifestyles, but well-written and fast-paced in contrast to Italy's dozing coastlines. Walter does a good job jumping around in time periods and from character to character, slowly teasing out the ending in a way that's both surprising and believable. A must for fans of old Hollywood.

Why you should avoid this book

There are places during the book that fall a little flat, tone-wise. There's a feeling, more so in the current-day setting, that Walter didn't have a full grip on his characters, especially the females. There's a busyness to the novel that didn't leave everything as fully developed as it could have been, relying a bit too heavily on the wow-factor of the characters meeting.

Opening Paragraph

The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly - in a boat that motored into the cove, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier. She wavered a moment in the boat's stern, then extended a slender hand to grip the mahogany railing; with the other, she pressed a wide-brimmed hat against her head. All around her, shards of sunlight broke on the flickering waves.

Fabulous quotes

Claire glances at Shane, and sees that he must feel it, too, the name hanging in the air for just a moment...among the three of them...and then floating to the floor like a falling leaf, the Italian watching it settle, Claire guessing, hoping, praying the old Italian will say the name once again, more quietly this time - to underline its importance, the it's so often done in scripts - but he doesn't do this. He just stares at the floor, where the name has fallen, and it occurs to Claire Silver that she's seen too goddamn many movies.
'The movie I was working on, Cleopatra, it's about how destructive a force love can be. But maybe that's what every story is about.' She removed her hand from her chest. 'Pasquale, have you ever been in love?'
He felt himself flinch. 'Yes.'
'What was her name?'
'Amedea,' he said, and he wondered how long it had been since he'd said Amedea out loud; he was amazed at the power it had, that simple name.
'Do you still love her?'
Of all the difficulties of speaking in another language, this one was the worst. 'Yes,' Pasquale finally said.
'Why aren't you with her?'
Pasquale exhaled, surprised at the sharpness at the base of his ribs. He finally just said, 'Is not simple, no?'

Also by

The Financial Lives of the Poets; The Zero; Citizen Vince; Land of the Blind; Over Tumbled Graves; Ruby Ridge.

Fun Tidbit

One of Walter's previous books, Citizen Vince, won the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel.

Would I read more by ?

Depends on the topic of future books.

One Response to Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

  1. Loni says:

    I’ve been noticing the buzz about this one too. I’ve been wondering if I should read it. I don’t think I’m going to run out and get a copy, but I might pick it up if I come across it.

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