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Beautiful Ruins

By Jess Walter

Based on another TBR reviewer, I pushed this one up on higher my TBR list, and I’m glad I did. I found this novel to be, well, just beautiful. It is also edgy, wise, observant, and chock full of fascinating trivia about the production of the movie Cleopatra.

Set mostly in Italy, Seattle and Hollywood, the novel stretches from World War II to present day. It jumps from past to present, and back again, leaving the reader in suspense for the back-story and wanting to know what happens next. Not to mention there is a brief detour chronicling the Donner Party tragedy by way of a movie pitch.

The plot centers around the story of Dee Moray, a young and beautiful actress with a minor role in Cleopatra, who appears at the hotel of Pasquale Tursi. Pasquale is trying to make something of his late father’s rundown, backwater resort and turn a mostly uninhabitable island into the sesto (sixth) of the Cinque Terre. Enter Richard Burton and an overambitious publicity guy for Universal Studios, and high jinks, epic romance, and the often hard, but somehow beautiful, lessons of life ensue.

This novel is one of the most hopeful I have read in a while, and it is great fun. The plot and descriptions contribute to a movie-like quality; in fact you can almost hear the swelling of an imaginary film score in your mind as you read. Highly recommended.

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