The BUZZ: Beautiful Ruins is a national bestseller and New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of the Year. This is Jess Walter’s 6th novel.
The GIST: In 1962, a lovely American actress arrives at a tiny fishing village on the Ligurian coast of Italy to hide out for a while. Pasquale Tursi, the charming young man who runs the only hotel there, is immediately captivated. Their hesitant attraction seems like the beginning of something, but real life quickly intervenes. The novel travels from the 1960’s to the present day, from Italy to Hollywood, and back again. Without taking itself too seriously, Beautiful Ruins examines the nature of living and dying, what we owe each other, what it means to commit ourselves to a person or a cause – and how so often these things do not go as planned. People are flawed. Time is relentless. Our spontaneous choices play out over decades in ways we do not expect. Through his deft ear for dialogue and quick wit, Walter keeps these themes light and laugh-out-loud funny.
The WRITING: Entertaining and ambitious. There are six major characters in this book, and each has a complete backstory; they all blend effortlessly together. The plot is meticulously crafted, and the puzzle pieces are dealt out at just the right pace. Descriptions of places and people are lush. Woven throughout is wry observation about American culture and our obsessions with media and celebrity. There are no loose ends, and the ending itself is gratifying and memorable. The novel reads like a movie script, whether Walter intended it to or not. He does deliver some dazzling sentences, yet by and large this book is focused on the details of character, scene, action, and dialogue.
BUY or BORROW?: Borrow. This is no classic read, but if a book could be a food, this one would be chocolate – sweet and savory, a guilty pleasure. Beautiful Ruins has it all: sex, drugs, rock and roll, a love story, a movie pitch, a one-act play, Richard Burton, Botox, and much more. If you like your escapist reads to be served with a side of social commentary, this intelligent novel will satisfy your appetite.
He loves what the culture loves, its sheer speed, its callous promiscuity, its defections and deflections, its level-seeking ability to always go shallower; to him, the culture can do no wrong.