Friday, May 24, 2013

"Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter

Oh, my, it's been a month! And I actually had to renew Beautiful Ruins three times in order to finish it (my fault, not the book's). It's been a busy four weeks, mostly because my husband and I just moved into our new home. There's lots to be done, though I'm trying to set aside an hour or so each day to read. We've set up our swing on our large deck, which looks out into the woods, and it's quite pleasant to read there in the afternoons.

So, Beautiful Ruins was read during a turbulent time, and I don't know that I gave it my full attention. Nonetheless, I can say it is a sweet and sufficiently engaging book. The novel is made of various forms and comes from a variety of narrators over the course of fifty or so years. It begins in the modern day with Claire, an assistant to an aged film producer, Michael Deane, and it continues in a tiny coastal village in Italy, where a "sick" American actress working on the beleaguered set of the 1963 Cleopatra is brought to hotel owner Pasquale's establishment. The novel also throws in a chapter of a book by Alvis Bender, an American veteran; an unpublished excerpt from Deane's memoir; and a play.

Though there are a lot of pieces, they all come together nicely. However, since Cleopatra and Richard Burton also play significant roles, the book might be more appealing to people familiar (i.e., not me) with the film fiasco and actor.

Pasquale is at the heart of the novel as he struggles to come to terms with his place in the world, and the distance between his aspirations and reality, and responsibility and immaturity. The story between him and Dee (the actress) is the most compelling, particularly next to the story of the rather unsympathetic Pat, Dee's son. Michael Deane is kept perfectly self-absorbed throughout.

The ending is pretty neat and happy for all the characters--lots of life revelations--but I still enjoyed it.

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