Reactions – From my TBR list: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

I recently fell in love with Jess Walter’s podcast with Sherman Alexie called A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment where they discuss author stuff and also humanity (that’s me paraphrasing this awesomeness). I randomly also had just bought Beautiful Ruins for $1 at a used book sale in Oak Park when I discovered this podcast and I’m just so happy I did because it had been on my TBR list forever – admittedly, for its distractingly stunning cover.

My favorite thing about this book is its subtle shifts in perspective that magically demonstrate a stunning, sometimes haunting and other times hilarious, variety of voices. The characters are complex, unique, and captivating; the gradual reveal of story and character is done with a constant and engaging back and forth in time. The discussion of film and pop culture is so satisfying and interesting. The “multigenerational” approach and the satire are both also very interesting without being too long or pedantic. The best part of this book is the climax that is masterfully woven and left me with goosebumps.

I will read this book again. It was phenomenal.


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