Thursday, July 25, 2013

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I never describe books as “beach reads” because as I’ve said before, I’ll read anything on a beach. But I have to say, if I were on a beach, this would be a very satisfying choice. On a beach in Italy would be even better. Oh well.

Actual Italian beaches are depicted in this book, circa 1962. Also present day Hollywood and Idaho. It tells the story of an American actress Dee Moray, an ingénue who has fled from the cast of Cleopatra after an ill-fated affair with Richard Burton, and who is holed up (and considering her options) in a seedy hotel on the Italian coast run by a charming young Italian named Pasquale. The story follows Dee and Pasquale (and also a villain: the studio PR man sent to hush Dee up about the scandal) through their lives until they are reunited many years later. It is funny and heartwarming and extremely readable, a term which some reviewers use to mean “overly simple” but by which I mean “flawless” – nothing takes you out of the experience.

Walter could have created a fictional film and a fictional married actor but he chose to use Cleopatra and Richard Burton. I suppose a story about a big-budget Hollywood film made in Italy in the 1960’s would just make us think of Cleopatra anyway and that would be more distracting. That is part of what I mean when I say this book is flawless; Walter knows how to mix fact and fiction, humor and pathos, hope and despair, and it’s got a happy ending! What a treat.

My friend Leah offers advice on a follow-up book: Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, by Sam Kashner. And guess what? She calls this one a "beach read!" but says it would be a really good companion to Beautiful Ruins. So there you go, two recommendations for the price of one.

(Book 20, 2013)


Sarah Laurence said...

So many mixed reviews on this one. You are tempting me to take a second look in a bookstore.

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