“‘All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character–what we believe–none of it is real; it’s all part of the story we tell. But here’s the thing; it’s our goddamned story.'” Jess Walter, BEAUTIFUL RUINS
BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walter was published in June of 2012 and is 352 pages. I’ve read many outstanding reviews of the book and could no longer ignore the Twitter buzz and “Best of” lists mentioning it. I’ve been waiting to make my “Best of…” reading list for the year, and I’m glad I did, because this novel might very well be #1.
Set in the present day and in the past in Hollywood and Italy, BEAUTIFUL RUINS is the story of a small group of men and women whose lives become entangled and forever joined from a scandal on the set of the legendary Burton and Taylor film, CLEOPATRA.
The epicenter of the novel occurs on the coast of Italy in a forgotten town where a young man dreaming of becoming a hotelier and transforming his forgotten land into a tourist destination meets a dying actress who comes to stay with him. The time they spend together has a profound effect on both of their lives.
BEAUTIFUL RUINS is told from the perspective of many different characters at different phases of their lives. From the highs and lows, wealth and poverty, loves and losses, what I found most fascinating about the novel was the change in tempo and unique perspective each section brought the the book. Fiction doesn’t often have a beat, but this novel does, and you can’t help but get swept away in its rhythm.
I entered into the reading of BEAUTIFUL RUINS as a writer intending to study why it is so popular. Over and over again, however, I became so deeply lost in the story, the locales, and the interior lives of the characters, I couldn’t remember why I was reading or even that I was reading. Think of every entrance point into the book as a rocky ledge of Italy’s Cinque Terre–once you begin the ascent or descent, the views are captivating and hypnotic.
Profoundly human and moving, BEAUTIFUL RUINS, explores themes of redemption and second chances. It is an epic tale of the resonance of choice and circumstance that can be enjoyed by readers of all kinds of fiction.
If you are looking for a great read for yourself or another this holiday season, I give BEAUTIFUL RUINS my highest recommendation.