Beautiful Ruins is a lovely, lovely tale—taking the best parts of an intricate tale like The Casual Vacancy and blending it with sweeping, emotionally wrought stories of love, such as in The Light Between Oceans. Were I a single girl in 1962, I just may have fought Amedea for Pasquale’s heart. Oh, Pasquale …
What you need to know before you dive in—the reader is jostled back and forth between 1962 in Italy and “Recently” in the States. Most of the characters figure prominently in one or both eras. There’s …
Michael Deane, a publicity assistant in 1962 and producer of ill-repute in present-day L.A.
Pasquale Tursi, a young hotelier (well, sort of, anyway) in Porto Vergogna (“Port of Shame”), Italy in 1962.
Dee Moray, a young actress on the set of “Cleopatra” in 1962, who morphs into Debra Moore, teacher and theater owner in modern day Pacific Northwest.
Dick and Liz. Duh.
Alvis Bender, The Hotel Adequate View’s only regular American customer and author extraordinaire. Sort of.
Pat Bender, front man for the Reticents and Debra’s son.
Claire Silver, Michael’s frustrated “Should I work for Scientologists?” assistant with a porn-addicted boyfriend, as well as two charity cases on her office doorstep. And that’s where the story begins …
Author Jess Walter takes readers on a journey from one coast to another, beginning with Pasquale and Dee in Italy and ending with … Pasquale and Dee in Italy. But along the way? Love is discovered and abandoned by nearly everyone involved. Whether it’s Pasquale slowly motoring away from Dee, Maria setting Alvis free, Pat’s refusal to take responsibility, Michael’s rejection of the moral high ground, Dick and Liz and Eddie Fisher …
What I most enjoy though is that Walter is able to touch the heart without going all Nicholas Sparks on us. The setting alone—that Italian coastline—is ripe for Sparks’ angst and emotional destruction. But Walter is able to go to the exact same place without the sap, but instead with humor. Pasquale’s attempt at a tennis court on the cliffs, Michael’s self-absorption, Aunt Valeria’s insults, Richard Burton’s booze … the humor is what makes the story human.
This is easily one of the best books I’ve read all year, and extra special in that I would not have discovered it unless someone had recommended it to me. So I’m paying it forward — don’t miss Beautiful Ruins. Excellent. Just excellent.