When the beautiful Dee Moray first steps off a boat and into his isolated world, Pasquale Tursi
is a young man with dreams of putting his small Italian village on the map. He’ll build a tennis court on a cliff, he imagines; he’ll improve his family’s aging hotel, bringing Americans and their fat pocketbooks to Porto Vergogna. Dee appears like a phantom, the manifestation of everything he so desperately wants: love, security and beauty in the ruins. It’s 1962, and Pasquale will do anything to make her happy.
Decades later and a world away in L.A., disillusioned filmmaker Claire Silver is waiting for something to move her. Stuck in a boring relationship and feeling utterly stagnant, Claire logs long hours working for Hollywood legend Michael Deane, a man never afraid to call in a favor, and the pair are seeking redemption through whatever means necessary. When an aging Pasquale Tursi shows up at their door, calling in a favor himself, everyone’s life is turned upside down . . . before it’s righted again.
Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is spellbinding. Readers searching for something to sweep them up and out to sea need look no further than the author’s latest, and I can promise you the plot is every bit as delicious and enticing as the lush cover photo suggests.
Fluctuating between the making of the Liz Taylor and Richard Burton classic “Cleopatra” in Italy and present-day Los Angeles, Walter introduces a cast of unforgettable characters. Though I was innately more interested in the scenes from 1962 than the modern plotline, both were crucial to Walter’s story of love lost and found — and honor redeemed. Pasquale is a hopelessly endearing character — someone you want to hug and help. Naive, lovely actress Dee entrances him immediately, but it’s hard to tell if it’s Dee that effortlessly captures his heart . . . or the idea of what she could finally bring to his colorless life.
You know how sometimes you’re reading, grow bored and just skim a bunch of paragraphs . . . only to realize you’ve missed absolutely nothing? I hate that. And Beautiful Ruins is the opposite of that reading experience. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it masterpiece of many intricate stories, and the setting made me feel like I could step in and share a glass of wine with the motley Italian crew. Even Michael Deane, a selfish baffoon who royally screws up others’ lives, manages to somehow seem likeable.
The book’s story-within-a-story quality completely sucked me in, too. Beyond the fate of the principle characters, we’re given the movie treatment of a heartwarming tale of . . . cannibalism. (Yes: cannibalism.) And somehow it still sounded like a moving, captivating film I might want to see. Honestly.
Readers craving a vibrant story offering glimpses at old Hollywood, the Italian seaside, the effects of war on the innocent and the bonds (and sacrifices) of love need only grab Beautiful Ruins. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year (adding to this list!) and one that certainly deserves a spot in your beach bag.
5 out of 5!