switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
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's review
Mar 28, 2012

it was amazing
Read on March 28, 2012

After looking up various images of the 1963 movie, CLEOPATRA, the film that critically bombed but was lit up by the scandal of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, I saw a coastline of Italy that looked exactly like the cover of this book. It is a most felicitous cover that captures the mood and time that this novel begins, in 1962. A parochial innkeeper, Pasquali Tursi, lives in a rocky coastline village called Porto Vergogna (Port of Shame), a place the size of a thumb between two mountains, and referred to as "the whore's crack."

One day, Pasquali is stunned by the vision of a young, striking, blonde American actress, Dee Moray, from the movie set, and baffled why she is staying at his inn. He learns that she is sick, and waiting for the famous publicity agent, Michael Deane, to take her to Switzerland for treatment. She stays at the ramshackle inn for a few days. Walter depicts their friendship with exquisite wistfulness and beauty. Her Italian and his English are as rocky as the cliffs surrounding the village, but a meeting of the souls eclipses language. On an outing together, they climb the cliffs high above the Ligurian Sea so that Pasquali can show Dee five frescoes painted on the wall inside a machine-gun pillbox bunker left over from World War II. At this scene, I almost wept. These frescoes become the most poignant visual metaphor of the book.

Alvis Bender, an American writer with writer's block, traumatized from his experience in the war, stays at the inn annually, and has left his one devastating chapter in the drawer in Dee's room. It is an astonishing chapter, one of the highlights of the novel. It is a treat to witness the variety of stories that make up Walter's one larger story.

The novel alternates non-linearly from 1962 to contemporary time in Hollywood, Calfornia, where Claire Silver, a scholar of film archives, works for the now legendary film producer Michael Deane. Claire is on the cusp of quitting her job and leaving her boyfriend, and is suffering from several regrets. She is braced for another insipid film pitch when she receives a surprising visitor.

In this pensive, reflective, aesthetically pleasing, and geographically stunning story, we meet a disparate cast of characters that are ultimately linked. There's also a washed-up rock musician, a frustrated screenwriter, and a cameo appearance by a certain alcoholic son of a Welsh coal miner--a brief but rollicking insertion of a true-to-life legend that is so spectacular and credible, it almost outshines the rest of the book. But the rest of the novel is exquisite, so that the scenes in repose combine with eye-popping chapters, and give the book a sublime balance.

The story has an undulating, timeless presence. Patience is rewarded, as it ascends toward its peak with a languid pace. The outcome may be a little too neat for some readers, but it is a minor flaw that is incidental to the mature and subtle elegance rendered on every page. As time passes, it continues to echo with its alluring characters, resonating themes, and delicate visual beauty and symmetry.
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03/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-15)

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message 15: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie great review, this sounds like a must read and I've never heard of it! thanks, switterbug

switterbug (Betsey) Sure thing! It is currently pre-published (I got an ARC through the vine program on Amazon) but it is due to come out in a few months.

message 13: by Lewis (new) - added it

Lewis Weinstein Thanks for an excellent review.

switterbug (Betsey) You're so welcome. Thanks for the kind words!

Melissa Rochelle The Richard Burton drive was one of my favorite parts. It just brought the entire story together. Great review!

switterbug (Betsey) Yeah, it was rugged and unpredictable and sometimes a real howl!

message 9: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim I "read" this as an audiobook, and Burton's parts were wonderfully read. You should check it out. The narrator did a excellent job getting his voice just right.

Suzanne There are lots of great reviews of this book. I think I like yours the best. I really liked the book and I'm reading reviews rather than reading another book by Waters because my hotel room doesn't have wifi. I will though!

switterbug (Betsey) Thank you, Suzanne! Hope you get to read this soon.

Linda Hays-Gibbs Great review! Loved this book.

switterbug (Betsey) Thank you, Linda!

Carrie Habib I loved the serendipity of this novel and Pasquale is one of the most special, gentle dreamers I've encountered in a book.

switterbug (Betsey) I agree, Carrie.

message 2: by Joy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joy Hale Completely agree. The ending was a little predictable but otherwise it was an entertaining book with enough drama and intrigue to keep me interested.

switterbug (Betsey) You're so spot-on, Joy!

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