Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins

While traveling cross-country last weekend, I passed the time reading novels I’d recently received. One of these was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. The book is simply fantastic. Walter presents a moving story encompassing friendship and love that spans a lifetime.

Pasquale is a deep and soulful innkeeper in a rarely visited, small Italian village. He dreams of running a large, profitable, and popular resort that would serve as a beacon for adventurous American tourists but when Americans do venture onto his island home they are few and far between and transpires is nothing as he’s imagined. It’s better.

The novel unwinds Pasquale’s story and those of his two American guests, tracing their paths across continents and back together again to a satisfying and beautiful conclusion.

Walter draws a portrait of each character so multi-faceted that we learn to love and identify with each of them, regardless of their foibles. Walter even manages to weave in real-life events and figures (Elizabeth Taylor) in a way that is natural and believable and not at all forced, awkward, or artificial.

Common to the greatest of books, the feelings that welled up when I reached the end of Beautiful Ruins were bittersweet joy (these characters will live on in my mind indefinitely), an aspiration to write a novel (I want to write like this! I want to make people feel this way! I want to bring characters alive just like this!), and an immediate desire to hunt down the rest of Walter’s books to add to my “must read” list.

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