Beautiful Ruins: A Novel. By Jess Walter. (New York: Harper, 2012. 337 pp.)
Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.
In 1962, a young American movie actress shows up at the remote, obscure, Italian “Hotel Adequate View” thinking that she is dying of cancer. Pasquale, the hotelier, naturally falls in love with her. 50 years later, Pasquale travels to Hollywood, in hopes of finding her again. That’s the story in a nutshell, but there’s so much more!
Beautiful Ruins is Spokane author, Jess Walter’s sixth novel. The story spans 50 years in time, and the novel took 15 years to write, according to the author. The primary venue is a tiny seaside hamlet in Italy, but the story makes brief detours to Hollywood, Seattle, and near the end, Sandpoint, Idaho.
What is the book about? Relationships, of course. Chances for new beginnings, starting over, trying again. Unrequited love, regret, happiness (the pursuit of), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The book bounces back and forth between then and now, and hops around the world, even spending a brief sidebar in Edinburgh, Scotland, of all places. The eventual cast of characters is much broader than we have time to delineate here, but it includes a jaded Hollywood producer and his bright young assistant, a failed rock singer, and a would-be screenwriter, who is trying to sell a script based on the story of the doomed Donner party, of all things, and more.
There is just something about the mood of the book: wistful and sweet, enigmatic and hopeful, always yearning for something more. And yet at the same time, it’s a complicated story with more characters and moves than a chess game, which it not in the least resembles. Warning: start reading this book, and you’ll be drawn in, in spite of yourself.