Beautiful Ruins – book review

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn’t familiar with Jess Walter but the recommendation from NY Times bestseller list enticed me but it was the cover featuring, what to me looked like Riomaggiore on the Ligurian coast in Italy that had me hooked. For one book, you get almost ten different and equally wonderful stories all woven beautifully together. The characters range from a mild-mannered Italian innkeeper, to Hollywood mogul, starlets, Mafioso’s, a bored script reader, to a burned out rocker and many more. It will entertain you with many voices, many styles and loads of charm and it’s all about love.

“This is a love story,” Michael Dean says, ”but really what isn’t? Doesn’t the detective love the mystery or the chase, or the nosey female reporter who is even now being held against her wishes at an empty warehouse on the waterfront? Surely, the serial murder loves his victims, and the spy loves his gadgets, or his country or the exotic counterspy. The ice-trucker is torn between his love for ice and truck and the competing chefs go crazy for scallops, and the pawnshop guys adore their junk. Just as the housewives live for catching glimpses of their own botoxed brows in gilded hall mirrors and the rocked out dude on ‘roids totally wants to shred the ass of the tramp-tatted girl on hookbook. Because this is reality, they are all in love, madly, truly, with the body-mic clipped to their back-buckle and the producer casually suggesting, “Just one more angle.”, “One more jello shot.”.

And the robot loves his master. Alien loves his saucer. Superman loves Lois. Lex and Lana. Luke loves Leia, til he finds out she’s his sister. And the exorcist loves the demon, even as he leaps out the window with it, in full soulful embrace. As Leo loves Kate, and they both love the sinking ship. And the shark, god the shark, loves to eat. Which is what the Mafioso loves too, eating and money and Pauly and Omertà. The way the cowboy loves his horse, loves the corseted girl behind the piano bar and sometimes loves the other cowboy. As the vampire loves night and neck. And the zombie, don’t even start with the zombie, sentimental fool, has anyone ever been more lovesick than a zombie, that pale dull metaphor for love, all animal craving and lurching, outstretched arms. His very existence a sonnet about how much he wants those brains. This, too is a love story.”

I was surprised by the genuine humor in this story. My favorite lines coming from the drunken Richard Burton “Ei’s a bit stagnant on this yacht” when the small fishing boat won’t start. But also the lovely villagers from Porto Vergogna deliver some great lines “I would shoot your tiny peker, Alfredo, but my aim is not what it once was, but a blind man could hit that gut of yours.“

Having just returned from a trip to Cinque Terre – I completely agree with the main character’s father Carlos who wanted to add Porto Vergogna to the five cities to make it “Sei Terre” – that would have been much easier to pronounce. Read this quick before it becomes a movie and the charm fades from the cover.

View all my reviews

“Stories are bulls. Writers come of age full of vigor, and they feel the need to drive the old stories from the herd. One bull rules the herd awhile but then he loses his vigor and the young bulls take over.

Stories are nations, empires. They can last as long as ancient Rome or as short as the Third Reich. Story-nations rise and decline. Governments change, trends rise, and they go on conquering their neighbors.

Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story . . . your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.”

“He found himself inhabiting the vast, empty plateau where most people live, between boredom and contentment.”
― Jess WalterBeautiful Ruins


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