Reviewed by Lauren Cannavino
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter carries characters over time, place, love and loss in a lyrical puzzle. The novel stretches from a small, almost forgotten Italian island in the 1960’s to modern day Hollywood and brings everything full circle. The characters all move along through their own troubles and daily lives and eventually realize just how connected everyone really is in this world. The novel also shows how much of an impact one person can make on another, even if their meeting is short or seemingly unimportant.
The story begins when Pasquale, the son of an innkeeper of a forgotten inn in Italy, takes in a beautiful American actress into his hotel. Dee, beautiful and apparently dying, is quiet, knows little Italian and Pasquale soon falls for her. The two spend time together and learn truths about themselves while trying to forage ahead without the past dragging them down. When Dee leaves the inn, Pasquale begins his wondering of and eventual search for the American who meant so much to him.
This story is the spine of Beautiful Ruins, but the interjection of other characters takes away from the beauty and focus on their story. Walter switches between the past and the present and adds new characters such as Claire Silver, the assistant to the powerful Hollywood mogul Michael Deane who is the connection to Dee and Pasquale both in the past and the present. More characters are introduced as the novel progresses, such as Pat, the son of Dee who isn’t exactly aware of his mother’s past, and at the end of the novel, all secrets and emotions are revealed.
I consistently lost interest in this novel as it went on and I think it was a result of the constant switching back and forth between not only the past and present, but also because of the focus and development of the other character’s stories. There really wasn’t a main character and I felt that Claire, while fun to read about, was not captivating enough to hold her own. I would have enjoyed the book much more if the story would have been exclusively about Dee and Pasquale as I was left wanting much more of that story and caring hardly at all about anything else developing. Walter does, however, have an excellent, beautiful writing style full of metaphors and vivid descriptions, but I was not a fan of this particular book.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.