Book Review -- Beautiful Ruins

Book Review -- Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter Beautiful Ruins

I added Beautiful Ruins to my vacation reading list because of one thing: the cover, reminiscent Cinque Terre, a place I am dying to visit someday. It also seemed like a quick, light read on the subjects of fame, love and dreams. I was right--this is definitely an enjoyable beach read.

Pasquale Tursi lives in Porto Vergogna, known as the embarrassing crack of Cinque Terre, the tiny town no one bothers to visit. He's relatively complacent there--it is, after all, where he was born and raised, where his dying mother resides alongside his aunt--but he mostly stays to continue his father's legacy. He hopes to make something of this town, much to the chagrin of everyone else. Pasquale's world flips upside one day when a young, beautiful American woman arrives out of the blue. For the rest of the novel, Walter takes the reader on multiple journeys from the perspective of each character. We follow Pasquale as he tries to learn Dee Moray's secrets. Why is she here? Who brought her here? How long will she stay? And along the way, we meet several other characters during various timelines: Michael Deane, a movie producer focused on success and good looks no matter the expense; Claire, Michael's emotionally cool assistant trying to figure out her path; Alvis Bender, an aimless veteran writer, among others.

Plot-wise, surprises exist throughout this novel. I found myself considering the power of choice throughout one's life. Walter writes, "But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.” (54) For Claire, one decision in her twenties shapes the rest of her life, and I often think about how the small (or large) choices I make now might reverberate throughout my years and perhaps affect my happiness down the road. As the quote mentions, I think a lot of people do remain focused on the next thing or moment, when they have more time or money or live in a different city or have another relationship and so on, instead of appreciating the present. Our society is very future-oriented and fame-based at times, and I do think the novel presents fair criticisms regarding how those priorities have consequences.

I'll criticize one technique of Walter's. She brings a lot of true material to the novel, much of which ends up detracting from the characters themselves. Perhaps she intended to have a bit of fun, reimaging the side lives of certain famous personas. While I did find some of it interesting, I mostly wished to hear more from Pasquale and Dee's perspectives.

Again, I enjoyed the book, and it would be a great, fun choice for a book club.