Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: A Review

Beautiful Ruins was the June read for the Literary Junkies book club. I've wanted to read this book for a while and am glad I got the chance to. It wasn't one of my favorites but it had it's perks with movie stars, an Italian setting and plenty of drama. After much thought, I'm only giving Beautiful Ruins 3.5 stars. Have you read it? What do you think?

What Goodreads Says:

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks on 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.
What I Say:
I think what made me decide that I wanted to read Beautiful Ruins was the promise of glamour. It was set on the coast of Italy in the '60s as well as present day Hollywood. There was the presence of movie stars and love stories and it just grabbed me immediately. This idea of what the novel was supposed to be like is what immersed me from page one to the end. But honestly, I'd only give it 3.5 stars. Here's why...

There are a lot of stories going on in Beautiful Ruins that all somehow come together. Following along is not difficult but it leaves you unsatisfied in the end. The story centers around three main characters with several supporting. I'll only concentrate on the three main because this review could turn into a novel otherwise. Dee Moray, Pasquale Tursi and Michael Deene. We get to know each of these people throughout a fifty-year time span which brings us joy, regret and lots of sadness.

Credit: Kate Gabrielle (Flickr Creative Commons)

Dee Moray's life is a complicated one. She starts off as a beautiful, young actress just beginning her movie star career alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the movieCleopatra. However, her acting career is put to a quick stop when she is told she has cancer. She is sent to a quiet town on the coast of Italy only accessible by boat called Porto Vergogna. It's here that she meets a young Italian man named Pasquale Tursi. Pasquale is an academic who stops his schooling in Florence to come home and help his father run their little hotel. They have big dreams for their hotel, Hotel Adequate View, and Pasquale is determined to make it an American travel destination.

Michael Deene is an ambitious young publicist in then movie industry proving his talent by making Cleopatra a huge success. When confronted with a crisis, he turns it into a larger fortune or deals with it no matter the cost. Rather than breaking up Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, he keeps them together and makes their relationship as public as possible garnering the movie unparalleled success. So when he finds out that Richard impregnates a girl on set and is determined to do right by her, Michael "fixes" the mess. The lie that Michael told Dee ultimately changes every character's life and makes a solid foundation for an otherwise weak story.

Jess Walter created a story that involves so many lives around lies, deception, mistakes and regret. Each character has some form of regret from their past that they want to mend. That's what Beautiful Ruins is essentially about. For many of these characters, it's at the very end of their life that they are able to go after what they really want and it leaves you a little empty because they wasted so much time. It puts into perspective how little time we actually have. Forty or fifty years may seem like a lot when we're twenty but in reality, it's only a blink of an eye.

I didn't dislike Beautiful Ruins but I didn't feel particularly great about it either. I'm not sure I would personally recommend it but if you are as intent on reading it as I was, go for it. I won't discourage you either. It was definitely an experience. I have to say I loved the historical aspects of it. There were funny moments and heartfelt ones as well. I just wish it was a little happier but I guess that's not something you should expect from something titled Beautiful Ruins.