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Friday, October 11, 2013

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Book Review: Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, is a beautiful book. With the story taking place within the world of Hollywood movie-making, the book almost feels like an old classic film. And for anyone who loves movies, the story will remind you exactly what about them made you fall in love.

But I was a little disappointed that this beautiful feeling didn't last throughout the whole book.
The main story line begins in a tiny town in Italy, where the young hotel owner, Pasquale, desperately hopes that Americans will come to his hotel and put his little fishing village on the map. His wish is granted in the form of a stunning American actress named Dee Moray. Dee is supposed to be acting across from Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, but she becomes sick and is brought to Pasquale's hotel by producer Michael Dean in order to recover.
Pasquale and Dee, even though separated by a language barrier, spark immediately. But due to difficult circumstances, they can never be romantic with one another. And after a short time together they part ways.
The story picks up 50 years later in Hollywood when Pasquale seeks out producer Michael Dean to find Dee Moray and rekindle their relationship.

It is a very sweet and touching story. And it is told in a very interesting way. The chapters are not chronological. The narrative jumps from 1960s Italy to modern day Hollywood to 1970s Wisconsin to wherever Walter takes you. You piece together the story in little chunks. You also see the story from many different points of view, giving it a more dynamic quality.

I found the subject matter to be very interesting as well. Being a part of the entertainment industry and living in Los Angeles,  it was neat to see the characters navigate the environment that I live in everyday. Walter also does a great job of reminding any film-loving readers why movies are so easy to fall in love with. The book often shows us how much life is like a movie.
This was the power of film: it was like deja vu dreaming.
All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character- what we believe- none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell. But here's the thing: it's our goddamned story!
But the book also shows us how much like a movie life is not.
But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.
This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life.
Beautiful Ruins reminds us why movies are movies and lives are lives, and why we so desperately wish they could be the same. But for all of its romance and nostalgia at the beginning, the book's ending wasn't what I was expecting. 

First of all, it felt like the story took a long time getting to where it was going. The book is not long, but it's structure of jumping time and location each chapter, although unique, seemed to slow down the momentum. I felt, at times, we spent too long in the past when we should have been moving forward in the present.

Second of all, at the book's conclusion, the author felt that he had to tell us what the title Beautiful Ruins meant: human lives.
In some way, every human life has been ruined, whether by a great tragedy or by something not turning out the way you hoped it would, your life has changed. But human lives continue on, making the best out of what is left for them. And that's a beautiful message, but an author shouldn't have to literally explain their title. I had already figured it out on my own. I didn't need him to spell it out.

And third of all, the actual ending of the book seemed to depart from the rest of the story. Walter spends whole chapters on things that I didn't think were that important, but when it came to the ending he just dedicates a few paragraphs to each character to wrap up their stories. Almost every character, large or small, was revisited at the end so that we would know how their lives turned out.
This closure was too complete for me. When a book ends there should be finality, and yet their should also be a feeling of continuation. Even if the main character dies, there is still something about their story that lingers with you after you close the book. But in Beautiful Ruins the closure was too final. It was over, their stories don't continue, and I'm not going to think about them anymore. It wasn't the final feeling I expected compared to my feelings at the beginning.

But perhaps all of this was intentional. Maybe, Walter does this because that's how life is. It does not continue on glamorously like a movie or a book; it just goes until it's done. But you will have to decide for yourself if you think that's why the book ends the way it does, and whether or not it makes for a good ending.

Overall, Beautiful Ruins is beautiful, nostalgic, romantic, and classic just like an old movie. But these feelings do not remain from start to finish. Yet, I think, that it is a good representation of human perseverance in the cruel thing that is life.
What person who has enjoyed life could possibly think one is enough? Who could live even a day and not feel the sweet ache of regret?
 Have you read Beautiful Ruins? Did you like the ending? Head over to the forum to discuss.

Title: Beautiful Ruins

Author: Jess Walter

Genre: Fiction

Recommendation: Yes

Best Reader Audience: Male and female readers from Y.A. level and up

Final Rating: Three out of Five mugs of hot chocolate 
Want to journey back in time and see a love story through the ages? Use this link, and your purchase will also support the Lone Book Club!

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