Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is told with time jumps from 1962 to present day, where the past affects the future in all the characters. Just south of Cinque Terre in 1962, a young movie star comes ashore in a remote village which is only accessible by boat. The local owner of the hotel, already obsessing about turning his village into the next place for Americans to escape, watches over his guest with his own future in mind. Meanwhile, a has-been movie producer in present day Hollywood has a surprise visitor from his past.
Jess Walter’s introduces all his characters with purpose and they all tie the story together. This includes the enigmatic Elizabeth Taylor, who never appears in the novel, but is referenced by all the characters because in 1962, when half the book takes place, a young Liz is filming Cleopatra in Rome, not far from the picturesque Italian village.
Having the plot jump back and forth can be jarring to a reader, but Walters keeps everything smooth in his telling. He also keeps everyone guessing as to what secrets have been covered up for 50 years and who will be most impacted by their revelation.
This was a beautiful story of people living their lives with all the good and bad out for the reader to see. Jess Walter writes compassionately about all his characters, even in their selfish awfulness.
Read April 2015