Walter, Jess. Beautiful Ruins. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.
Jess Walter’s gorgeously written, Beautiful Ruins, begins with the arrival (by mistake) of a beautiful American actress Dee Moray, to Pasquale Tursi’s little Italian coastal village and the humbly named Hotel Adequate View he maintains there. The two develop deep fondness if not love, and maybe the latter would have developed had Tursi not been forced to make the moral decision on which the book turns.
The story travels the globe from Rome (the set of the movie “Cleopatra”) to Edinburgh to Hollywood. There is much humor: Tursi’s determination to build a tennis court on the side of a cliff with no thought given to balls that are ill-hit, and lines like the following: “Two kinds of people always lie about their ages: actresses and Latin American pitchers.”
There is much wisdom, as Tursi learns from his mother, “Pasqo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.” And there is wisdom wrapped in poignancy. A half-century after the book begins, Dee Moray looks back on her life and sometimes feels at peace. “But other times, honestly, the whole idea of being at peace just pisses her off. At peace? Who but the insane would ever be at peace? What person who has enjoyed life could possibly think one is enough?”
The tenderness in this novel is palpable. “There was nothing explicit between them, nothing more than that slightly open door. And yet . . . what could be more alluring? “In that moment, Pasquale Tursi finally felt wrenched in two. His life was two lives now; the life he would have and the life he would forever wonder about.”
Beautiful Ruins is a love story, but as one of the characters in the novel asks, “… really, what isn’t?” But not all love stories are beautiful. And not all love stories so deeply probe the ruins of lives lived. Jess Walter will ask you to confront many of those themes in your own life. As you prepare to lose yourself in this novel, prepare to lose yourself in the nostalgia, the reverie, the yearnings and even the wisdom of your own life.