Published June 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours
A year and a half ago, I took a chance on Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets (my review here) and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually possible to mix a recession, drug dealing and humor in a way that worked really well. I've been looking forward to reading more of Walter's books and was thrilled to see Beautiful Ruins come up as a TLC Book Tour. It probably goes without saying that where I had no expectations for The Financial Lives of the Poets, my expectations for Beautiful Ruins were much higher. It's hard to surprise readers with a second book. We're already expecting a certain level of writing skill, a certain level of storytelling. It's not enough to be a good book; it's got to be at least as good as the last book. Beautiful Ruins is that good and, amazingly, just as surprising as Financial Lives.
In 1962 a beautiful, aspiring American actress shows up in the tiny Italian village of Porto Vergogna to stay at the equally tiny hotel recently inherited by Pasquale Tursi. It's to be a short stop for Dee Moray, while she waits for a friend before heading to Switzerland for treatments for stomach cancer.
"Then she smiled, and in that instant, if such a thing were possible, Pasquale fell in love, and he would remain in love for the rest of his life - not so much with the woman, whom he didn't even know, but with the moment."Fifty years later, Shane Wheeler is preparing to pitch a movie to producer Micheal Deane. Deane's assistant, Claire Silver is a woman on the edge - to stay with Deane and her wayward boyfriend or cut all ties and move on to a job she's not sure she wants but knows she wants more than what she has. Pat Bender is once again chasing a dream all of the way to Europe while his long-suffering mother is dying of cancer. And Pasquale Tursi is coming to Michael Deane to ask Deane to help him find the woman he can't get out of his mind after all of these years.
The "stars" of Beautiful Ruins are clearly Pasquale and Dee but Walter introduces a large cast of characters that are much more than merely a supporting cast. Walters moves in and out of each person's story, in and out of places and times. It is sometimes confusing, sometimes jarring to leave one person's narrative and move into another decade and narrative. But it works in Walter's hands in a way that it could not have worked in any other way. As the stories began to come together, Beautiful Ruins becomes that book that you'll stay up much too late just to finish.
Authors rarely attempt to do blend comedy into love stories and even less rarely make it work without having it become cutesy. Walter is masterful at it - it feels like real life. After all, don't we all have lives made up of love, laughter and dreams?
"After the funeral, he begged his elderly mother to move to Florence, but the very idea scandalized her, "What kind of wife would I be if I left your father simply because he is dead?"
For other thoughts on Beautiful Ruins, check out the full tour. Thanks, TLC Book Tours, for including me on this tour. Now it's time for me to go pick up some of Walter's earlier works.