By, Jess Walter
Harper Collins Publishers Reprint edition (February 20, 2013)
Pages 337, ISBN-10: 9780061928123
A book review by, Ginger Dawn Harman
|David Porterfield "Our Book Club Leader."|
Our local library book club, chose Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter as our October discussion. This is the first book that I have read by the author and was pleased with the opportunity to gather with others that give their reading insights. Jess Walters writes with a good narrative voice that had our book club leader David purchasing the epic film Cleopatra directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. David wanted to see if there actually was a blonde slave girl in the film, as the author implies in the book. It is Walter’s talent that created a “this could be true” plausibility that makes Beautiful Ruins such an interesting read. I found that the book was engaging with enjoyable characters.
The beginning of Beautiful Ruins was rather slow to start. Taking place on the fictitious Italian coastal village Porto Vergogna or the “Port of Shame”, Pasquale’s quiet hotel has been greeted with scandal by heartless, ego driven producer Michael Deane and actor Richard Burton. A twenty-two year old actress named Dee Moray has arrived to the “Hotel Adequate View” with the news that she is dying from cancer. Pasquale is overcome with her beauty,
"Pasquale fell in love, and he would remain in love for the rest of his life- not so much with the woman, whom he didn't even know, but with the moment." Yet, this is an engaging story after page 44 with so many twists, turns, and complexities that a reader cannot help but continue reading. The most shocking part was the murder toward the late middle of the book.
My favorite characters were Paquale, Aunt Valeria, and Pasquale’s mother. The aunt and mother add much of the satirical humor to the story line. For example, I had a good chuckle with the line:
“In the kitchen Valeria was making breakfast, his aunt never made breakfast even though Carlo insisted for years that a hotel hoping to cater to French and Americans must offer breakfast. “It’s a lazy man’s meal.” she always said. "What laggard expects to eat before doing any work?”
I also enjoyed the alternate combination of story of past and present. Once Claire (Michael Deane’s assistant) meets Shane Wheeler, the novel becomes rather fast paced. Moreover, I enjoyed the thought provoking wisdom that was subtly incorporated in the novel. The line: “All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character-what we believe-none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell…” is a prime example of this wisdom woven throughout the book.
Jess Walter weaves an intriguing tale about a scandal, personal choices, and the turmoil left in its wake. It all ties together neatly at the end but I just didn't find the book that earth-shattering. It was a mediocre read. I also would have chosen a different cover. Incorporating the paintings Dee and Pasquale found in an old WWII bunker would have been a nice idea for the cover. However, if you are looking for a story that is the typical Hollywood drama and enjoy characters who have baggage and life experiences, then this book should be at the top of your reading list.