Sunday, October 14, 2012

Beautiful Ruins By Jess Walter

I don’t get writer-envy often, but Jess Walter’s seemingly effortless efforts make me want to alternately squash him like a cockroach, and kiss him full mouth with lots of tongue!  I fell in lust with Walter’s writing via his 2009 book, The Financial Lives of the Poets, about a guy who quits his job to create a website featuring poetry about finance and money. Check out this NPR excerpt and you’ll see why I'm goofy over this guy.

Beautiful Ruins first drew me in with its cover, featuring an azure seascape and cream-colored cliffs dappled with pastel houses. But when I saw Jess Walter’s name, I sniffed and walked away thinking “I won’t be seduced by some pretty, opportunistic play on my weakness.” Two weeks later I bought it thinking, “This better be damn good.”  It was.

Beautiful Ruins is a story about love and dreams and how reality and chance mold them into our stories. It begins in 1962, with a humble yet illogically optimistic innkeeper, Pasquale, in a remote Mediterranean fishing village, and the young, beautiful actress, Dee, who accidentally lands on his shore. We are then transported to modern-day Hollywood, where an aging Italian man arrives at a movie studio searching for the same beautiful actress. Back and forth we glide, as Walter spins a fascinating tale and cadre of characters and happenings spanning 50 years. One of the most interesting characters, included to great affect, is Richard Burton (yes, the), who is involved with Dee during the making of the movie Cleopatra.

Jess Walter’s (pictured) has a number of writing talents, but my personal favorite is his sense of humor. It's not just that he's funny. You think he's delivered the punch line, then he says something else so clever that you laugh because it is funny and because it is so ridiculously clever. For example, this description of a Hollywood producer:

The first impression one gets of Michael Deane is of a man constructed of wax, or perhaps prematurely embalmed. After all these years it may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, lifts and staples, collagen implants, tannings, cyst and growth removals, and stem-cell injections that have caused a seventy-two-year-old man to have the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.

Beautiful Ruins is a fun romp through the lives of the almost ruined lives of a lively group of beautiful characters, and is also a comfortable and entertaining reminder of how life simultaneously beats us down and makes us our most glorious selves. Read Beautiful Ruins. It is a truly novel novel.

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