Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter was one that I purchased a few months ago with a gift card from work, but just finally got to during my week off at Christmas (trying to be better about reading books I buy sooner!). If Dear Life was in understated sepia tone, Beautiful Ruins was in brash, blazing technicolor. My only regret is I wish I had read this in the summer.
Beautiful Ruins is at its core a story of long-lost love at first sight. In 1962 Italy, Pasquale is a young hotelier in a tiny coastal village. One day, a beautiful Hollywood actress arrives needing a room, and she is dying. As details unfold, we learn the actress, Dee Moray, came from the set of Cleopatra and was working with none other than Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Decades later, Pasquale shows up at a Los Angeles movie studio office, searching for the woman he has never forgotten.
The book alternates between 1962 Italy and a more recent year in the United States, with some stops in and far between. There are MANY characters, but they are all tied together and I didn’t feel overwhelmed while reading. My favorites were Pasquale and Alvis Bender, the novelist who stays at Pasquale’s hotel every year (bonus for being from and mentioning my hometown, Madison, Wisconsin!). Beautiful Ruins was a fast, fun, lively, lovely read—full of romance, dreams, color, sly humor, and personality. Walter paints amazingly vivid scenery for the reader, from an quaint cliffside Italian hotel to a fringe festival in Scotland to the extravagant Cleopatra film set. Each chapter was something completely fresh for the reader, keeping you on your toes and paying attention. I felt like I was watching an epic film the whole time I was reading. Part love story, part ANOTHER love story, part has-been rocker story, part showbiz movie-pitch story, part play, part WWII novel… this book just has everything. I loved all of it.
Read from December 23 to 28, 2012.