Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: BEAUTIFUL RUINS, by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. Published 2013 by Harper Perennial. Fiction.

Beautiful Ruins is a book that straddles the line between commercial and literary fiction, and between soapy and romantic. It took me a long time to get around to reading it; I had it in galley and met author Jess Walter at a prepublication event sponsored by the publisher, but it languished on my shelf and eventually I gave away my copy, even after lots of friends raved about it. It just seemed too... I don't know... commercial for my taste. But curiosity won out, and I picked a copy up after Christmas and devoured it.

For me it started off a little slow, with a disaffected producer's assistant dreaming of making "films" while stuck in the mire of Hollywood schlock. She's considering switching careers, to librarianship of all things, when an aspiring writer walks through the door and changes her life, though not in any way you might think.

The narrative moves around in time and next thing we're in Italy in the early 1960s as a young actress named Dee is taking refuge in a tiny hotel in a hole-in-the-wall town, whose owner, Pasquale, is fascinated and troubled by her presence. Then we meet a frustrated writer, an elderly producer, a troubled young man, and more. When the narrative shifts definitively to the present these characters intersect and their stories take final shape. What comes next will either having you rolling your eyes or wiping the tears away from them.

For me it was the latter. I wasn't expecting this but I was totally swept up in these characters' lives, the many lives each one leads, especially Dee and Pasquale. I know the story is kind of cheesy but Walters totally won me over with these two. The other characters were less interesting to me but I loved Dee and Pasquale's friendship, their journey, and the beautiful ending that Walter gives them both.

I would definitely recommend Beautiful Ruins as a literary beach book, or just a wonderful escapist read to help you forget about the winter weather. You will feel like you're wandering the coast of Italy with Dee and Pasquale, and the other characters too, rooting for their beautiful stories all the way.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of Beautiful Ruins from the publisher.