Long time no write! I’ve had a miserable go of it these past few days with the stomach virus from hell. But it gave me a ton of time to read which is the only positive side I could manage. And today I’m going to be reviewing a lovely little novel by Jess Walter that is coming out in paperback to a store near you soon – or maybe it’s already there!
Many of y’all discovered and loved Beautiful Ruins last year so I’m a bit behind the curve. When Trish at TLC Book Tours invited me to be on the tour marking the paperback release, I jumped quickly. So glad I did. I literally just finished about 5 minutes before beginning this post and so expect mostly an incoherent gush fest to follow.
Walter’s novel is hard to summarize. Next to impossible, really. It beings with a young Italian man returning home to run his family’s hotel in the nowhere village of Porto Vergogna after his father’s death in 1962. One day, Pasquale is attempting to build a beach on the rocky coastline to attract American and French tourists when a tall, beautiful, blonde film star arrives at his hotel. Dee Moray has been working alongside Liz Taylor on the film, Cleopatra, and has been sent away diagnosed with stomach cancer. When she meets Pasquale for the first time, a story spanning decades and many, many lives is set in play. That synopsis only scratches the barest of surfaces. But Beautiful Ruins is a book best read cold and discovered along the way.
For a book that jumps around in time so much, Beautiful Ruins sure does have some major flow. I’m really baffled at how seamlessly Walter is able to weave together the past and present along with various different mediums of narration such as chapters from fictional novels and plays scattered throughout the story. I like to think of Walter as a storytelling magician.
I was also taken with Walter’s ability to write both a deeply complex character driven story that happens to work as a page-turning plot as well. Achieving both is such a rare occurrence in books I read. And he’s able to make each of his many characters matter and to easily stand out as their own person. I always knew who I was reading about, could easily remember their back story, and yearned to stay with them just a bit longer. I think part of this success comes from Beautiful Ruins being such an effortlessly imagined novel. By that, I mean that the narrative played out in my head so vividly, almost like a movie. Jess Walter would make a fantastic screenwriter.
Beautiful Ruins is the best contemporary novel I’ve read in quite some time. It’s at once wickedly comedic and lyrically sad. It has so much to say about life, death, dreams, and the paths our decisions lead us down everyday. Walter has written a book meant to be read more than once with something new to be discovered upon each reading, I’m sure. It’s the kind of novel that bodes well as a gift for a new graduate or someone nearing death. Poignant, purposeful, and a hell of a ride!
Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for my honest review. Check out the rest of the tour here.
About the Author
Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His collection of short fiction, We Live in Water, has just been published by Harper Perennial. He lives in Spokane, Washington.