Anne-Marie Lacy's Reviews > Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
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's review
Aug 03, 12

really liked it
Read in August, 2012

Hello all! Hope you are spending plenty of time reading and sunning this summer. If not, you better get busy before Fall overtakes us. I have a reading recommendation to get you back on track, and believe it or not, no one gets murdered in this book, but I still finished it! I admit I chose Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walters, for its gorgeous cover, which looks like a great place to do some tanning, drinking, and hanging out with handsome Italians. And although I don’t generally read love stories, I did enjoy this book. It is a sprawling tale that spans forty years, beginning in Italy in the early 1960′s and taking the reader back and forth between that time and the present day. The action centers around an aspiring young actress named Dee who has a minor part in the famous film Cleopatra, which starred Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who is himself a character in the book. In the first chapter, the beautiful Dee arrives at a tiny hotel in an even tinier Italian fishing village, where the owner, a young Italian named Pasquale, falls in love with her. Then the scene shifts to present day Hollywood, where Pasquale, now an elderly gent, is looking for his lost love. The story of Dee and Pasquale is interwoven with the stories of numerous other characters, who are the “Beautiful Ruins” of the title. My favorite is Claire, an idealistic young movie production assistant whose story line provides most of the comic relief in the novel. The sendup of Hollywood and modern movie industry culture, or lack thereof, is scathing and entertaining. The action travels back and forth between these two places and times,with Edinburgh, Scotland and Seattle, Washington thrown in to keep you on your toes.

Although this may sound confusing, Walters’ talent is such that the transitions are seamless. He very skillfully takes us to different eras and different points of view, and his prose is lyrical. My favorite line appears towards the end of the book:

There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant – sail for Asia and stumble upon America – and the hope of scarecrows and tinmen: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along.

Wow! Isn’t that the kind of writing we hope to find in every book? I wish I could steal “serendipitous savant”, it would make such a good blog title. Anyway, this book is a good beach read, because it is broken into easily digestible sections, so you can conveniently put it down to nap or play in the surf, and it has a happy ending. I have to be brutally honest and say the story was a tad melodramatic for my taste – but then I don’t usually read books about relationships, and that is definitely how I would pigeonhole this one. Also, Dee Moray, the young woman around whom the entire story line depends, is the least well-drawn and least believable of all the characters. I hate to be sexist, but Jess Walters, who is a man, (Jess must not be short for Jessica!) needed to consult with a few chics who were sexually active back in the 60′s on this one.

That said, it’s still an interesting novel from a talented author, even if no one finds a corpse. I hope you’ll give it a try. And I’ll holler at you later, and in the meantime may you “sail for Asia and stumble upon America”!



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