117 Cherry St. Seattle, Wa. 98104
Once in a great while, you find a book that completely sweeps you away. Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is that book.
On an Italian coastline in 1962, a young innkeeper sees a vision of stunning beauty – a young, American starlet – and is heartbroken to learn she is dying. 50 years later, in Hollywood, an elderly Italian man appears on a studio backlot, searching for a woman he hasn’t seen since 1962.
The story weaves and folds between times in a way that, by all rights, should be confusing and annoying, and yet, with Walter’s deft touch, that weaving is joyous and easy and simply amazing. I was so caught up in the convolutions, the machinations and the sheer heart of the story that I was transported. From Italy to Seattle, London to Idaho, and of course Hollywood, this is wondrous journey of spirit and deceit and passion and love.
I know, it sounds like gushing hyperbole, but this is truly a work of literary art. JB, Adele and I all found ourselves staring at each other, wide-eyed, saying goofy things like, “Yeah, I know!” and “Wow!”. JB says it rivals Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for best novel, and he’s absolutely right. They’re two completely different types of books, but man, oh man, what great reading!
Jess Walter is always superb, but with Beautiful Ruins, he has reached an amazing new and astonishing level of brilliance.
I know Fran wrote up Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter and JB already has but I have to say it is one of the best books I have read. A beautiful love story but not in the traditional sense.--Fran
If any book can come close to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl as the Best Book of the Year, it’ll be Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. It matches hers for creativity, wit and a wicked view of humantiy.
an Italian coastline in 1962, a young innkeeper sees a vision of stunning beauty – a young, American starlet – and is heartbroken to learn she is dying. 50 years later, in Hollywood, an elderly Italian man appears on a studio backlot, searching for a woman he hasn’t seen since 1962.
The story moves between different time frames: when the innkeeper Pasquale first sees the starlet; ‘recently’, in Hollywood; during WWII; and a few years ago. As the story hops around, you begin to see more and more of the story as it unfolds and folds back upon itself, filling itself in, filling itself up.
All the while, Jess laces the story with touches of satire, humor and always stunning writing: “But then she turned directly to him, and the disparate features of her drastic face came together as a single, perfect thing, and Pasquale recalled from his studies how some buildings in Florence could disappoint from various angles and yet always presented well in relief, always photographed well; that the various vantages were made to be composed; and so, too, he thought, some people. Then she smiled, and in that instant, if such a thing were possible, Pasquale fell in love, and he would remain in love for the rest of his life – not so muich with the woman, whom he didn’t even know, but with the moment."
These passages weave through the narrative, alternating with ribald commentary on life and our altogether too-human foibles. Love, lust, hope and dreams – and our inane pursuits. “All of her gagged responses to three years of ludicrous ideas and moronic pitches gush out in teary, breathless laughter. An effects-driven peroid thriller about cowboy cannibals? Three hours of sorrow and degradation, all to find out the hero’s son is…dessert?”
It occurred to me as I read this terrific book that it – just like Gillian’s new book – shared something with one of my all-time favorites, The World According to Garp. What they share is a healthy disdain for phoniness and fakers and a reverence for the ‘normal’ people who are simply trying to make a go of their lives, even if they are just x-rated soap operas.
There is no crime in Beautiful Ruins, unless you count the crimes we commit against others and ourselves. This is a charming book. And hysterical. It may be fiction but it feels so true.
“And because he felt like he might burst open and because he lacked the dexterity in English to say all that he was thinking – how in his estimation, the more you lived the more regret and longing you suffered, that life as a glorious catastrophe…”
Indie Next ListJuly 2012
In 1962, a young Italian innkeeper unwittingly ends up taking part in the Hollywood 'clean up' of a love affair on the set for the film Cleopatra. Fast forward to present day Los Angeles; Pasquale Tursi shows up at the studio of a legendary Hollywood producer to find out the fate of the actress he met so briefly, so long ago. The 'beautiful ruins' refer not only to the stunning descriptions of the Italian coastline, but also to the winding path a life can take and the sweet middle ground that we sometimes discover when our dreams don't pan out. -- Sarah Harvey, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO
The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.
And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lotsearching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.
What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motionalong with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.
About the Author
Jess Walter is the author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, the Edgar Award-winning Citizen Vince, Land of the Blind, and the New York Times Notable Book Over Tumbled Graves. He lives in Spokane, Washington, with his family.
Praise for Beautiful Ruins…
“Why mince words? Beautiful Ruins is an absolute masterpiece.”
-Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic and Empire Falls
“A novel shot in sparkly Technicolor. . . . reimagines history in a package so appealing we’d be idiots not to buy it.”
-Library Journal (starred review)
“Well-constructed…quirky and entertaining tale of greed, treachery, and love.”
“This is a blockbuster, with romance, majesty, comedy, smarts, and a cast of thousands. There’s lights, there’s camera, there’s action. If you want anything more from a novel than Jess Walter gives you in Beautiful Ruins, you’re getting thrown out of the theater.”
-Daniel Handler, author of Why We Broke Up and creator of Lemony Snicket
“[N]othing less than brilliant, a tour de force that crosses decades, continents, and genres, to powerful and often hilarious effect....A masterful novel of love, loss, and hard-won hope that satisfies on every level.”
-Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
“Within a page-turner of a plot, these triumphantly vulnerable characters leap off the page to take up permanent residence in your inner life. The effect is so powerful that to be untouched by Beautiful Ruins might well be like having no inner life at all.”
-Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
“A brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. . . . Walter’s prose is a joy-funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He’s taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that’s life-affirming but never saccharine.”
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A marvel, an absolute gem of a beach read that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.”
“Walter vividly draws a world both tender and cutthroat, where ambition battles reality, daydreams fight doldrums and sometimes win.”
“Lyrical, heartbreaking, and funny . . . Walter closes the deal with such command that you begin to wonder why up till now he’s not often been mentioned as one of the best novelists around. Beautiful Ruins might just correct that oversight.”
-Kansas City Star
“A monument to crazy love . . . Walter [is] a believer in capricious destiny with a fine, freewheeling sense of humor.”
-New York Times
“Expertly scratches the seasonal itch for both literary depth and dazzle.”
“A novel with pathos, piercing wit and, most important, the generous soul of a literary classic. . . . Walter has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors.”
“Beautiful . . . A shining, imaginative tale . . . Beautiful Ruins shows novelists how it is done.”
-The Plain Dealer
“A literary miracle.”
-Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
“His [Walter’s] characters are long-suffering, prone to failure and sometimes at death’s door. But the verve and enthusiasm of this novel, from its let’s-go-everywhere structure to the comedy in the marrow of its sentences, are wholly life-affirming.”
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Entrancing novel…Walter’s turns of phrase are as brilliant as his plot twists, making for a compelling, fun read.”
“Beautiful Ruins is satisfying and delicate, a spectacular story of love, frustration, selfish intent, and the patience of the human heart.”
“[A] high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. . . . [Walter’s] mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel.”
-New York Times Book Review
“A beautiful narrative . . . This writer is a genius of the modern American moment.”
“His masterpiece . . . an interlocking, continent-hopping, decade-spanning novel with heart and pathos to burn, all big dreams, lost loves, deep longings and damn near perfect.”
“Walter is a very, very funny writer and can do Hollywood satire with the best of them. But this is also a novel with a live, beating heart, full of sympathy for its characters and agut wisdom…You’ll want to explore these Ruins.”
“It is a powerful and lush book.”
-Selman Blair, the New York Post