My thoughts: You could say this is a novel about Hollywood and film making, about how it can make you a success as it did Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who are featured in this novel, or it can chew you up and spit you out, as it did the fictional character of Beautiful Ruins, the aspiring actress Dee Moray.
Dee Moray is made to believe she has stomach cancer and, to be rid of her, is sent away from the Cleopatra movie set in Rome to an unknown and tiny seaside Italian village, Porto Vergogna, where she is to wait for producer Michael Deane to take her for cancer treatment in Switzerland.
Dee is befriended by the young owner of the tiny hotel, Pasquale during her three-day stay in Porto Vergogna. Pasquale sees her as the beginning of his dream come true for his remote hotel, which he hopes will attract tourists and rich Americans as other Italian towns do.
On one of their walks, Pasquale shows Dee a ruined bunker forgotten in the hills, on the walls of which a WWII soldier had drawn pictures of the town and pictures of a girl, possibly his sweetheart. The sharing of this secret place seals their friendship, but Dee and Pasquale soon go their own way to lead separate lives, though reluctantly. That was in the 1960s. Some forty-six years later, an aging Pasquale turns up in Los Angeles, hoping to find Dee, the actress, and this starts the producer Michael Deane off on what he plans to be another of his money-making film schemes.
Comments: I found this a moving story of love and friendship, duty and trust, and two people who survive the greed for fame, fortune and reputation, whether in the film industry or in tourism. The title has multiple meanings, I think, referring to the beautiful but "ruined" Dee of the film industry, maybe even to the beautiful Richard and Liz, and the ruins of the WWII bunker Dee visits with Pasquale whose paintings show fading beauty of another sort. I gave the novel 5 stars for the characterization, the plot, the writing, and the message. For the entire book. Go read it!
Title: Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walters
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013)
Book description: From the moment it opens—on a rocky patch of Italian coastline, circa 1962, when a daydreaming young innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat—Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins is an inventive story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.
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Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His collection of short fiction, We Live in Water, has just been published by Harper Perennial. He lives in Spokane, Washington. Find out more about Jess at his website and follow him on Twitter.
This review is linked to Cym Lowell's Book Review Link Up Party.