I couldn’t get enough of Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. I’ve slept maybe four hours in the last two days reading it. I would rather read it than eat a Snickers.
YES. That’s how good it is.
The story is told in many different parts, but not so many that you get confused as to who’s telling the story. There’s a romance and a tragedy in Italy during 1962 when a Hollywood starlet named Dee Moray decides to stay at a remote (very remote) village on the coast of Italy.
She takes refuge in a hotel called The Hotel Adequate (literal translations abound in this novel). Pasquale, the 22-year-old owner of the hotel, immediately falls in love with her and wants to care for her as she begins to show signs of an illness that led her to his secluded hotel in the first place.
Fast forward 50 years to Claire, assistant to a scumbag Hollywood movie producer named Michael Deane who had some big success 40 years ago and a recent smattering of popular reality shows. Claire doesn’t know if she wants to stay in her job or go follow her dream job: working in a Hollywood movie archive.
On Pitch Friday, when every lunatic with a movie idea comes in to pitch a script, she meets a fairly talented screenwriter who wants to make a movie about the Donner Party (oh, you had me at cannibal). She finds the idea ridiculous while her boss is salivating over it.
Claire and Michael barely notice the old gentleman who has made his way in alongside the screenwriter into the pitch. The old man wants to meet Michael Deane because Deane’s the one who dumped the starlet at Pasquale’s hotel in 1962 when she was so ill. When Deane finally realizes who the old man is talking about he goes into shock. He hasn’t seen or thought of Dee in 50 years but Pasquale hasn’t forgotten the man who abandoned the sick woman on the island and took off. The screenwriter, scumbag producer, his assistant and the sweet old Italian man with the iffy English skills embark on a journey to find Dee Moray. But what is Deane’s angle? Does he want to make money by turning Dee’s life into a reality show?
Throughout the book there are glimpses into each character. This is where Jess Walter works some major mojo. These characters are so fleshed out you expect to bump into them while buying milk and cat food at the corner convenience store. It’s a rare and gifted writer who can make characters so alive that you find yourself thinking “I wonder if screenwriter Shane ever wrote another script?” I fell asleep for an hour this morning and actually dreamt that Pasquale and Dee Moray ended up together and had a bunch of children and lived happily ever after.
If you like a deep and well-crafted novel about people you would love to know in real life (except for that poop–on- the-bottom-of-the-world’s-shoe movie producer) read this book. And keep your fingers crossed that as you’re reaching for that last bottle of $4 wine on a dusty shelf of a corner store, you’ll meet a sweet Italian man who will tell you a mind-blowing story.
By the way, Jess Walter will be here at the Everett Public Library Sunday, August 12th at 2 pm to talk about his novels and whatever else he wants to talk about because he’s a great writer and could spend the hour reading the phone book and I’d be on the edge of my seat listening. I’m going to go, maybe have him sign the back of my Kindle Fire. I just hope I don’t go up to him, throw up on his shoes and say “Do you know who you are?”
I tend to get nervous when meeting famous people.