Week of 8/5 (pt. 2!): Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

Beautiful Ruins

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. 

Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

My Review:

Sigh. I really wanted to love this book. After having multiple friends and family members ask how I had yet to read it, my expectations were high. Maybe a little too high…

It’s not like I didn’t like the book; it’s a romantic story with interesting characters that come alive within some pretty prose. I just didn’t love it. And after talking to so many people who raved about the story and ensured me it would be the ultimate beach read, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something…

What’s ironic is I adored the first few chapters. Beautiful Ruins opens in a remote fishing village on Italy’s Mediterranean coastline, not far from the world-renowned Cinque Terra. It’s 1962 when Pasquale, a young and dreamy aspiring hotelier, is standing on his makeshift beach when a beautiful American actress arrives by boat. Pasquale is lovestruck; she’s statuesque, with golden hair and completely unlike any of the American film stars he’s seen before. Debra “Dee” Moray has come to stay in Pasquale’s anonymous little hotel. Why? She’s been diagnosed with stomach cancer on the set of Cleopatra and was sent away by the movie’s publicity assistant.

Flash forward to present day: we meet Claire Silver, an uninspired production assistant who lives in Los Angeles with her wannabe-actor boyfriend. Claire’s wildly unhappy; Her dreams of creating successful movies and films have hit paused while she works for the coined “Dean of Hollywood” – washed-up movie producer, Michael Deane. On the day she promises herself to make a change, an elderly Pasquale wanders into her studio looking for her boss and the mysterious film starlet, Dee Moray.

The remaining story is comprised of a drove of different timelines that attempt to connect the dots between Pasquale, Dee Moray, and Michael Deane. And while I normally like a story that juggles different subplots and characters, I found myself overwhelmed by Beautiful Ruins. The number of character connections is distracting, and quite frankly, unnecessary. I wanted to read a love story about Pasquale and Dee–instead, I read a story about Pasquale, Dee, and literally EVERYONE in between.

If Stefan from SNL was reviewing a book, he would probably review Beautiful Ruins because this story has everything. From a romance with Elizabeth Taylor to a junkie trying to make right with his mother, the book has every plotline and character imaginable. Unfortunately, everything isn’t always everything… it’s simply too much in Beautiful Ruins. 

Stefan

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars