Tuesday, September 4, 2012

TO-READ l Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walters' (The Financial Lives of the Poets, The Zero) latest, is nothing less than a joy to read. In it, we follow the lives of characters so real, so well drawn, that we need to know what becomes of them. It's 1962, Italy. Pasquale has inherited the Hotel Adequate View, his parents' hotel on the Italian coast. As he dreams (a little unrealistically) of making it a fashionable destination for wealthy Americans, a beautiful American actress, Dee Moray arrives, fresh from the scandal-ridden set of Cleopatra. Pasquale is not really free, but he falls in love with her. Then he learns she's dying. Or is she?

In the present day, Claire, whose writerly ambitions are shelved, is the assistant to Michael Deane, the somewhat washed up, once famous Hollywood producer, who long ago got his start working on Cleopatra, fixing problems, shall we say. Disillusioned, yet still hopeful, Claire dreams of discovering the next big thing. Into her office walk a young screenwriter with, of all things, a pitch for "Donner!" a movie about the ill-fated Donner party, and an old Italian man on a quest. It's Pasquale.

By turns hilarious and touching, Beautiful Ruins, asks good questions: how do we do the right thing? Can we make amends? It paints indelible pictures; in a wonderful fight scene Pasquale defends his turf against thugs, cave paintings play a beautiful recurring role, Richard Burton himself has a very funny scene, an alcoholic former soldier, comes year after year to the Hotel Adequate View, writing and rewriting one chapter of his novel before finding a way to make his life make sense.

With a cast of characters wide and deep, and stories tautly plotted and interwoven, Beautiful Ruins looks at life, that "glorious catastrophe" with a satirical, yet kind and discerning eye.  

-Keelin Kane, CGB Bookseller 

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