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Beautiful Ruins: A Novel Paperback – April 2, 2013
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Adriana Trigiani Reviews Beautiful Ruins
Beautiful Ruinsis a glorious read for book lovers. From the moment you pick up the novel, it conjures a world that you long to enter. The teal-blue Ligurian Sea laps against a jagged coastline filled with candy-colored houses and open windows. At first glance, you’re dying to get inside those houses and find out what’s going on.
You needn’t worry. Jess Walter has written a sumptuous epic about the real people who make art, spinning illusion for fun, profit, and meaning. There are screen actors, a novelist, and Pasquale, an innkeeper, who keeps his patrons fed and watered on homemade wine and dreams. Among all the shimmer and hope are the lost souls who long to create something, anything. And just as Jess Walter introduces us to these characters, he follows them for fifty years. The journey will delight and captivate you.
You will be crushed when the novelist, Alvis, tracks down a woman whom he believed saved him in his youth, only to take a long walk down a dark hallway into a room where everything he believes and all his hopes shatter in one exchange. Jess Walter can break your heart in one conversation.
If you love the ancient charms of the Italian coast on the Ligurian Sea, if you long for Edinburgh and its cold rain and distant hot sun, and if you love stories of the dream factory that is Hollywood, you will not be able to part from this book until you are finished reading it. Even then, for months afterward, you’ll keep it close so you can reread a passage here and there that moved you.
It’s all here, the illusion and reality, the joy and the shame of the creative life, of life itself. The ingenue Dee, the producer Michael, and the D-girl Claire take you into the world of making movies, the expectations and disappointments, and in an ingenious turn, the author pins the hem of the action with real Hollywood stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who are engaging in a drama of their own in Rome.
Jess Walter has quietly and expertly built a career over six novels that puts him at the forefront of great American writers. Beautiful Ruins is the emerald among the pearls.
“A monument to crazy love . . . Walter [is] a believer in capricious destiny with a fine, freewheeling sense of humor.” (New York Times)
“Walter is a very, very funny writer and can do Hollywood satire with the best of them. But this is also a novel with a live, beating heart, full of sympathy for its characters and a gut wisdom…You’ll want to explore these Ruins.” (Newsday)
“Walter vividly draws a world both tender and cutthroat, where ambition battles reality, daydreams fight doldrums and sometimes win.” (Interview)
“A marvel, an absolute gem of a beach read that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.” (Huffington Post)
“Expertly scratches the seasonal itch for both literary depth and dazzle.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Entrancing…Walter’s turns of phrase are as brilliant as his plot twists, making for a compelling, fun read.” (People)
“Lyrical, heartbreaking, and funny . . . Walter closes the deal with such command that you begin to wonder why up till now he’s not often been mentioned as one of the best novelists around. Beautiful Ruins might just correct that oversight.” (Kansas City Star)
“Beautiful . . . A shining, imaginative tale . . . Beautiful Ruins shows novelists how it is done.” (The Plain Dealer)
“His [Walter’s] characters are long-suffering, prone to failure and sometimes at death’s door. But the verve and enthusiasm of this novel, from its let’s-go-everywhere structure to the comedy in the marrow of its sentences, are wholly life-affirming.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“A beautiful narrative . . . This writer is a genius of the modern American moment.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
“A novel shot in sparkly Technicolor. . . . reimagines history in a package so appealing we’d be idiots not to buy it.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“Well-constructed…quirky and entertaining tale of greed, treachery, and love.” (Publishers Weekly)
“This is a blockbuster, with romance, majesty, comedy, smarts, and a cast of thousands. There’s lights, there’s camera, there’s action. If you want anything more from a novel than Jess Walter gives you in Beautiful Ruins, you’re getting thrown out of the theater.” (Daniel Handler, author of Why We Broke Up and creator of Lemony Snicket)
“[N]othing less than brilliant, a tour de force that crosses decades, continents, and genres, to powerful and often hilarious effect....A masterful novel of love, loss, and hard-won hope that satisfies on every level.” (Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk)
“Within a page-turner of a plot, these triumphantly vulnerable characters leap off the page to take up permanent residence in your inner life. The effect is so powerful that to be untouched by Beautiful Ruins might well be like having no inner life at all.” (Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction)
“A brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. . . . Walter’s prose is a joy-funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He’s taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that’s life-affirming but never saccharine.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“A novel with pathos, piercing wit and, most important, the generous soul of a literary classic. . . . Walter has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors.” (Boston Globe)
“A literary miracle.” (Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air)
“Beautiful Ruins is satisfying and delicate, a spectacular story of love, frustration, selfish intent, and the patience of the human heart.” (The Stranger)
“[A] high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. . . . [Walter’s] mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel.” (New York Times Book Review)
“His masterpiece . . . an interlocking, continent-hopping, decade-spanning novel with heart and pathos to burn, all big dreams, lost loves, deep longings and damn near perfect.” (Salon)
“It is a powerful and lush book.” (Selma Blair, the New York Post)
“A great getaway of a novel.” (People)
“Beautiful Runs is itself a showcase for Walter’s outrageous literary gifts in virtually every genre and style. . .No wonder critics have been outdoing each other with superlatives. . .” (Nashville Scene)
“[An] enchanting novel. . . Sweeping effortlessly back and forth between Italy and current-day Hollywood, and between various modes of storytelling, Walters builds a world that won’t soon let you go.” (Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife)
“Combines satisfying, old-fashioned storytelling with a modern sensibility.” (Becky Aikman)
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Somehow, Mr. Walter connected a beautiful, young American actress, Dee Mornay, World War II, the Gold Rush. Richard Burton and a waxy Hollywood producer boss, Michael Deane. There are more characters, some are heartbreaking but many are comical and described with their particular language and fetishes. The plot is innovative and somehow the author has placed his scenes, spanning 50 years, with precision. His artisty moved the years along and then the flasbacks enhanced the present with color and often, a philosophical view into our souls.
The main story centers on Pasquale, the young Italian who inherited a hotel on a poor, non-tourist island overlooking the Ligurian Sea. We meet him when he has dreams of expanding his small hotel, oddly named "The Hotel Adequate View." Dee Mornay is transported to his hotel, thinking she has stomach cancer. Instead, she is pregnant with a movie star's child and the deviant plan has her traveling to Switzerland for an abortion. The crafty image-maker is Michael Deane, whose ambition is to promote himself. He is the true character in this story who lacks conscience and integrity who Walter described as looking "prematurely embalmed." All the characters are distinct and serve a purpose affecting each other and earning our introspection. If you want to read an excellent narrative which will not insult your intellect, this is it.
All in all, I have to say that I am very glad that I had the experience of reading this novel. Jess Walter's prose brings to life a beautiful part of the world and the characters whose lives intersected at a very interesting period of history and how their past impacted the present.