Friday, September 13, 2013

Beautiful Ruins


    Summers in Florida are so swampy and vicious that I can hardly muster the strength to think. So I felt especially lucky to have, on a whim, bought Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. The novel begins in 1962, and Pasqual Tursi, the young proprietor of the “Hotel Adequate View,” the only business in the seaside village of Porto Vergona, Italy, dreams of turning his hotel into a posh resort with an American clientele. It appears the tide may indeed have turned in his favor when he spots a statuesque, blonde apparition being rowed to shore by his good friend Orenzio. Dee Moray has just come from the set of the famously overbudget Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, and she, as Pasqual soon learns, is dying. 
    The second chapter is set in present-day Hollywood and introduces Claire Silver, an academic—now jaded—script reader who works for has-been producer Michael Deane and is looking for a way out. It was Walter’s description of Claire, whose “curly red hair [is] splayed out on the pillow like a suicide,” which I can appreciate from a pure writer’s perspective, that won me over entirely. 
    There is a whole cast of characters with equally compelling narratives in the following chapters, and somehow, as the novel weaves in and out across time, they, and the plot, satisfyingly come together. It’s an achievement that, as Walter reveals in the “about the book” section of the novel, was fifteen years in the making. And it’s all of his hard work that allowed me to enjoy this book on pure emotion alone, not a worry or a care, just a couple weeks of my summer spent in balmy daydreams.

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