The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet: the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 . . . and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later.
I had been hearing so many wonderful things about Jess Walters’s Beautiful Ruins that when HarperCollins Canada tweeted that they’d be having a Twitter chat for the book, I just had to pick up a copy. The idea of Italy mixed with that beautiful cover made it a pretty easy sell for me.
Of course, when I finished the book and sat down to write this review, I was stuck. The entire book was a mix of SO MANY THINGS. First of all, there’s travel, music, books, movie pitches, acting, movie stars, relationships, Hollywood, Italy, Italian thugs — just to name a few. Second of all, there’s romance, humour, sadness, whimsy, longing, love, etc. And third of all, there’s a HUGE cast of characters.
Now, one would think that there would be way too many things to keep track of, but in a weird way, it all works. From the first few pages of the book, when I met Pasquale, a young Italian man with dreams of building a beach in front of his hotel, I was hooked. I loved the dreamy quality of Pasquale’s character. He’s a lover of life, a big dreamer. In fact, a lot of the characters in the book are big dreamers — at least, all the main characters are. That’s one of the wonderful things about the book — not only does it take the reader away to a different place, to different scenery, but it forces the reader to dream along with the characters, which is an amazing thing.
The thing that really got me with this book was the fact that every single character had a role — an important role — and even though the cast was huge, it wasn’t hard at all to keep track of who everyone was. There was also a really wonderful blend of romance and whimsy, hilarity and sadness — all of which fit together so perfectly and which really made me want to turn the pages faster.
Jess Walter is a pretty amazing writer. I loved how he constantly kept me on my toes as he flipped from Italy in 1962, to Hollywood in the present day, to a book chapter, to a play, to … so many other things! At every chapter end, I didn’t know what to expect next. The passing of time, the mix of old-time whimsy with new-age conveniences, the constant message of patience — it just all worked. Ultimately, the best story of the book — to me, at least — was the story of Pasquale, which was the most romantic and dreamy story of them all.
Honestly, I wish I could read more books like this! When I turned the last page, I was so happy to feel content. No loose ends — but just one question left hanging in the air. Of course, if you want to know that, you’ll have to read it yourself!
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