Hello fellow bookworms!
I recently read Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and for a few days after completing it, I wasn’t sure what to say about it. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I actually really, really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good, character-driven plot with a lot of thematic depth.
What made it challenging to assess was actually the realness of it all.
The actual plot is fast-paced a character driven, with a touch of fantasy thrown in. The story revolves around Pasquale Tursi, a young hotel owner on the Amalfi Coast of Italy in the early 1960’s. When Dee Moray, a beautiful but ailing actress, checks into his hotel, Pasquale’s life is transformed. With cameos from Richard Burton and Cleopatra-era Liz Taylor, as well as allusions to Italy’s dark involvement in WWII, the 1960’s segments of the book went from delightful to thought provoking in a matter of a few pages.
The book also follows Pasquale, Dee, their families, and a cast of other colorful characters in modern day Los Angeles. Claire Silver is a bored, over-educated production assistant with a boyfriend who’s addicted to strip clubs. Shane Wheeler is a self-proclaimed storyteller and all-around man-boy who becomes caught up in Dee and Pasquale’s story simply because he happens to know a bit of Italian. And Michael Deane is an aging Hollywood producer who you really, really want to have some kind of redeeming quality.
Walter’s writing is really lovely, and in his exploration of each of these character’s inner workings, there’s some uncomfortably relatable sentiments. There’s an underlying theme of balancing dreams and obligations, desires and intentions. Over and over again, the characters are forced to face harsh truths; whether it’s Claire realizing that even her dream job has a downside, or Pasquale trying to choose between romance and reality, the inner struggles of these characters are so well described that they sometimes seem too real. I was emotionally involved in every twist and turn of the storyline; Walter’s is able to use simple words to articulate complex ideas, which is something I strive to do in my own writing.
In the end, the characters all end up where they’re meant to be. Spoiler Alert: that’s not necessarily living out their dreams. The final chapter is beautifully done, with a breathless sort of epilogue spelling out the outcome for each character that we met throughout the novel.
I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a deeper beach read this summer. It’s definitively not a chirpy, Sophie Kinsella-esque story, but it will keep you entertained and engaged through every chapter.