“BEAUTIFUL RUINS” by Jess Walter (HarperCollins Publishers, 2012, 337pp, hb) was a well written, beautiful book full of interesting characters, charming surprises, and transparent technique of such luxurious depth: the writer in me kept turning back and re-viewing and re-reading passages, and upon discovering the metaphors and symbolism after they’d so subtly snuck up on me, snuck up because they were so integrated into and integral to the lives the people were leading – I was in both envy and rapture. Wonderful read. And comforting. The ending did not disappoint nor sadden, but rather, “completed” it for me. Loved this. Loved it.
It opens with the arrival of a dying actress in Porto Vergogna, Italy in 1962, for a stay at a hotel owned by Pasquale Tursi, who, as the American actress arrives, is seen moving grains of sand in an effort to create a beachfront at his hopeless hotel. From there the novel leaps in time and through multiple character arcs, all of which connect one way or another, and mirror and resonate and amplify and echo and – oh yes – illuminate the others, becoming this tessellation of detail and memory – the “beautiful ruins” – to which the title refers. The novel ends with the same two characters, but I don’t want to say anything else about when or where or how, because I would not wish to deny you the joy of that discovery.
This is my first Jess Walter novel, but I will surely read his backlist now. Such artistry, but no pretense. His is a confident authorship; he tells a rollicking good story without showy auteur-shi(t)p; he is a writer, a story-teller. Get this book.