Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter of Spokane, has been generating a lot of buzz lately.  The book opens in 1962, in the dark of night, when Italian fishermen deliver a dying actress to the “Hotel Adequate View,” a tiny pensione in a fading Italian village – but it was the wrong village.  Dee Moray is a refugee from the scandal and clamor of Cleopatra, then filming on location in Rome.  Hotel owner Pacal Tursi, struggling with a plethora of his own obligations, is immediately besotted.

From that vivid beginning, the story moves easily back and forth in time and across two continents.  We go from grimy opportunism at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, to struggles with integrity in an old World War II bunker in the hills above Cinqueterre, to an ultimate confrontation in an Idaho community theatre, decades later.  Along the way, we explore the tension of fame vs art through the birth and development of celebrity culture, as well as loss, responsibility, obligation, and, ultimately – of course –love.

Jess Walter’s dexterous writing explores a variety of formats and viewpoints – a Hollywood pitch, an original play, a memoir – artifacts adroitly assembled into a multilayered vision of our culture.  Even the book’s title is a fragment of found text describing actor Richard Burton as interviewed by Dick Cavett in the 1980s.  While all of the characters in the book make mistakes, it’s the men who are the real losers or “failures to launch.”  I kept checking the photo on the jacket cover to make sure that this “Jess” really was a man, until I noticed that all the women are essentially making the same mistake – in the man, or men, whom they love.

I picked up this book last year and read it just before an Italian vacation.  “Beautiful Ruins” remains on the New York Times bestsellers list and was named one of the best books of 2012 by National Public Radio and others.  Cross Creek Pictures recently announced they would be producing a film adaptation.  The novel is available in multiple formats, including eBook, and there’s quite a wait if you want to read a copy from your local library.

Ultimately, “Beautiful Ruins” is a poignant archaeological dig of a story, exploring survival and connection, beyond the choices, mistakes, and ruins of the characters’ lives.  Not unlike those of our own. – Connie Bennett, Library Director


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