Thursday, July 5, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
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 certainly 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?"
Jess Walter is the author of five novels, including The Zero, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award, and Citizen Vince, winner of the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. He has been a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and the PEN USA Literary Prize in both fiction and nonfiction. His books have been New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR best books of the year and have been translated into twenty languages. He lives in Spokane, Washington

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.

11 comments:

  1. I love that quote. The books sounds interesting. I will add to my list of possible reads. thanks for review.

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  2. Sounds wonderful! Haven't read anything of his yet.

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  3. I haven't heard of this one. Looks fascinating. Great review as always, Lisa!

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  4. Oh gosh, The Financial Lives of Poets was one of my favorite books, and I would love to read this one and see where Walters takes me next. It does sound like a great read, and I am off to look for it right now. Thanks for the heads up on this one. This is a must read for me!

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  5. Sounds great! I haven't read Walter yet, but hope to soon. Love the cover, too.

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  6. I have been looking at this book and looking at this book - and upon reading your review, I have to have it now.

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  7. You are so right - I always have high expectations for the newest book from an author I love. I'm so glad to see that Walter surprised and pleased you with this new book!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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  8. Beautiful Ruins is on my reading list. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it so much. This book is also the "summer smack down" read in our bookstore!

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  9. I read The Zero a few years back, and I've been a Walter fan ever since. Financial Lives is great. I saw Walter speak at the Tucson Festival of Books, and he said he wrote it in 6 months-crazy. I love Beautiful Ruins, my favorite Walter yet.

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  10. I'm so horrible with author's names sometimes. I loved Poets and didn't realize that this was the same writer. Just knowing that has me wanting to read this one. Loved your thoughts and going right now to Goodreads to add to my list!

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  11. I thought I saw a comment that this wasn't quite as good as you had hoped - did it wear off over time. THis is a great review - I loved the book with what is appearing to be zeal - and I am so looking forward to trying Poets sooner than later.

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