Lauren's Reviews > Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
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's review
Jul 07, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: stopped-reading

I'm bummed. I'm now 1 for 4 with Jess Walter, and, man, I loved his "The Financial Lives of the Poets." But "The Zero," "Citizen Vince," and now "Beautiful Ruins" all disappointed. Perhaps there was something about the narrator in "The Financial Lives" (married man with kids experiencing marital problems with his wife) that I could understand (not that I'm a man with a marital problems, but I can relate).

But this book gets great reviews from the critics and other readers. Brief synopsis: two interwoven, interrelated narrative threads... One takes place decades ago in Italy and is written in an almost lush, cinematic style. In that thread, a young Italian man falls in love with a beautiful American movie star filming "Cleopatra." The other thread takes place in the present and is written in a much wryer, more contemporary style. The action in this storyline -- at least where I left off -- was centered around a ~30-year-old woman who works for a film producer.

Anyway, the writing was FINE. The story was FINE. But in the end, I was getting the sense that the book was about the characters and the story... and that it didn't really dig deep into the human condition. And the way the love story (most likely a tale of unrequited love) was unfolding... it just felt too much like the kind of love story that people who like to read those sorts of things for escapism might like.

And so... I picked up "The Great Gatsby" last night, just for a moment, just to see... And I was blown. away. Again. For like the, what, sixth time in my life? Love that book. And if I'm going to read a book about unrequited love, this is the one for me. Gets me every time. And I am now comfortably in the hands of a real master again, and I'm officially done with "Beautiful Ruins."

And I am curious what I will think of "The Great Gatsby" this time around. I read it twice in high school. Once in college (aloud). Again in 2009. I'm hoping to appreciate it on a deeper level, but at the very least I am appreciating Fitzgerald's writing -- what he says and how he says it, as well as what he chooses not to say, which hangs heavily in the air.
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Lauren SIGH. I won't let you down in that I'll write an honest review, but so far... not good. I reread my reviews of Jess Walter's other books, and I was reminded that even though I loooooved "The Financial Lives of the Poets," I was disappointed by his other books! Sadly, I think this one may fall into that latter category... His books have a poor man's Richard Russo flavor to them.

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