My Goodreads review for Jess Walter’s “Beautiful Ruins.”
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I bought the book because, at a book-signing event, the hilarious Sherman Alexie recommended it twice. Okay, I’m game. I’ll admit, I was a bit hesitant when the story began with a young hero chest-deep in water trying to build a beach. But the quiet of the book’s opening quickly dissolved in Walter’s witty remarks, with hero Pasquale Tursi’s friend Orenzio tossing unchallenged crude barbs at the spellbound pension owner. We quickly sink into Pasquale’s world, that of a lonely, reluctant hotel owner trying to understand how his town and life – in 1962’s coastal Italy – can keep from vanishing. Then an American movie star-to-be mistakenly appears, we’re whisked away to the banality of present-day Hollywood, we’re introduced to a collection of bizarre, well-rendered characters and we’re off on a page-turning odyssey of sorts.
Walter drops a number of gems and insights into what could be considered a roundabout love story, or an homage to lives which might’ve been had not the madness of the modern world stuck it’s foot in the door.
In answer to other reviewers’ thoughts, I thought the parts with drunken thespian Richard Burton were hilarious and utterly believable. As lifelike is the bizarre producer Michael Deane, our proxy villain who set off the whole chain-of-events by trying to save the ‘doomed’ film “Cleopatra.” Walter obviously had fun skewering characters Alvis Bender and Shane Wheeler and the like, alternatively human and pathetic. The line ‘We want what we want’ surfaces often, for most everyone.
My belief is that the cover art is Porto Vergogna as hero Pasquale wished it to be – instead of the bland, tiny fishing village it was before it disappeared completely.
Ultimately, among the sage wisdom imparted are that ‘life is not that simple’ and to thoroughly enjoy our time in the sun. Words to live by.