Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter

I'll just lay this out there...I am scared to review this book.  I've been putting it off, and putting it off.  I'm not going to be able to describe it.  Well, yeah sure, I'll TRY, but I've been swishing it around in my head and nothing works.  

And the crazy thing is...I did not see this coming.  I have read one of Walter's books "The Financial Lives of the Poets", and I LOVED it.  It was really a breathe of fresh air in the land of family dysfunction and women finding themselves and all that.  It was creative and snarky and grounded in an inch or two of real life.  And when this little guy popped up, I never heard a bad word.  And that cover!  So vintage.  But it still knocked me down on my ass.  OK so here goes... *holding breath, and hitching up my britches*

Synopsis:  It all starts with a young man, working the family "Hotel Adequate View" in a small coastal fishing village wedged in the crack of a hill, in 1962 Italy.  Pasqualle, nursing a broken heart, has come home from college to pick up where his deceased father left off, and he is bored and isolated but with big plans.  Then a beautiful, tragic American actress shows up to hide away from the world, and the wheels are set in motion.

We travel to modern day Hollywood, where a scruffy, loser-who-thinks-he's-a-winner-who-lives-in-his-parents'-basement is pitching a movie idea to a distracted assistant to the famous director Michael Deane.

There is an aspiring author who stays at the Hotel Adequate View annually, but has only written one chapter in all the years he has spent there, drinking wine and dispensing advice to Pasqualle.

There is a talented musician who has squandered his gifts by sleeping with groupies, abusing drugs and alcohol, and consistently failing his one true love and his mother.  

We read Mr. Scruffy Loser's movie script.

We read the aspiring author's chapter.

We read a snippet of Michael Dean's memoir.

There is Richard Burton and Liz Taylor.

And everyone is connected in a glorious, ironic, sweeping, humorous kind of way.

My thoughts:  So there you go.  That is all I can really say, because the genius of this book is in the unencumbered meandering of this epic story.  It bucks the normal, expected template of a fictional book.  You pop your head into what seem to be random points in time, in various people's lives, then you pop out and read a screenplay.  You cross oceans and decades and languages.  You wade through love, greed, passion, ambition, helplessness, resignation, faith, hope.

The characters are quirky and make you laugh, which is a gift that Walters uses to his full advantage.  He is clever and sardonic, this one, with a turn of phrase that makes you shake your head in amazement, or chortle at the raunch.  Examples are required here!  When the director's assistant describes sex with her boyfriend as "the first two minutes like an exam from an autistic gynecologist, the next ten a visit from the Roto-Rooter man".  HA!  But he never lets his snark completely take over.  In fact, there was much in this story to cause one to pause and reflect.  So many quotables here.  Take these:

"There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant - sail for Asia and stumble on America - and the hope of scarecrows and tin men:  that you find out you had the thing you sought all along."

"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."

By the end of the book, a feeling of warm, happy contentment washed over me.  Like after a very fulfilling, 6 course meal with wine pairings and an unobtrusive strolling guitarist named Francisco.  (Can you tell what this book did to me?)  Sated and filled to the brim, I wanted for nothing more.  Except maybe to stay at Hotel Adequate View in Porto Vergogna Italy.

5 out of 5 stars


17 comments:

JoAnn said...

Don't think I've heard a single negative about this book! The audio production has gotten lots of raves, too. I know I'll get to it eventually... the biggest decision is whether to read or listen!

Julie P. said...

I adored this one too and couldn't stop raving about it. I get what you mean, though. I didn't feel worthy to even comment on it. I still need to read FINANCIAL LIVES.

Ti said...

I like when a book bucks normal. You sure have a way with words.

I have a book that I am scared of right now too. I can't seem to get my thoughts together enough to put them in a post.

Zibilee said...

I am so glad that I bought this one on audio a few weeks ago! I was going to get it on the book tour stop at SIBA, but then decided that audio would be preferable. I can't wait!! Excellent review today! Send that wandering guitarist over my way.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

Well the description of the book doesn't speak to me at ALL (sounds confusing) but your enthusiasm for it certainly does!! I'll have to take a second look at this one.

bermudaonion said...

Man oh man, everyone's raving about this. I think Julie sent me her copy - I need to take about a year off to sit around and read to my heart's content.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Oh, I LOVED this book! My heart swelled as soon as I saw the cover in your post, and I smiled happily at your stellar rating. It was so sweeping, epic, memorable, unique... there aren't enough good things to say, really. It's probably going to go down as my favorite read of 2012.

Alyce said...

I didn't know quite what to think of it from the plot description - it seems kind of odd. But then you loved it so much that you really piqued my interest for the book. I'm pretty sure I put it on my wish list already based on my appreciation of his last book, but I need to go double check now. :)

Jenners said...

OK … good to hear. Whenever I see the plot description, I think "That doesn't sound very interesting." Glad to hear it is just impossible to describe. And I have his first book but have yet to read it. Better get on it soon!

Jenny said...

Ya know, I really liked The Financial Lives of the Poets, but as good as everyone was saying this book was I just never felt the desire to read it. But your description of it is the best I've read and really makes me interested in it!!

Marie said...

wow :-) glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!

Carrie K. said...

I absolutely cannot wait to read this! Hoping to get it from the library soon.

Judith said...

I've heard some mixed opinions about this book. Some people think it's badly written and not a good story at all.

But, like you, I loved it! I don't care at all about movie stars and the era the book is set in, but how could I not love this beautiful book?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I read this one and felt the same way you did, very intimidated about reviewing it! It was really wonderful!

Kathleen said...

Wow, this is one I cannot miss!

Jackie Bailey said...

5 minutes ago I read Diane's review (Bibliophile by the Sea) in which she hated it. I do love books that divide opinion!

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Loved the audio - on my 2012 Favorite Books list!