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Beautiful Ruins by Walter Jess
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Beautiful Ruins (edition 2013)

by Walter Jess

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1,7751403,960 (3.85)139
Member:Randall.Hansen
Title:Beautiful Ruins
Authors:Walter Jess
Info:Penguin Books (2013), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

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Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
Entertaining read. More drama and romance then I generally prefer. In the end though, I had grown quite close to the main characters, which speaks highly of the writing itself. I just prefer more mystery; a darker, bleaker landscape than one of a life well-lived and remembered. ( )
  blockbuster1994 | Sep 9, 2014 |
I liked this book. Hard to put down; ambitious, but without trying to be more than it was; thoroughly consuming. Memorable? Maybe not. But made me very happy as I read it and seems to contain some particularly interesting, and sometimes touching, musings about life. Also, Italy! And Italian! Made me itch to travel. However, one of the biggest problems was that one of the main plot lines, a romantic relationship, just wasn't realistic to me. I couldn't quite buy it, and that took away a bit from the overall story for me.

There was plenty of good in this book, and I highly recommend it for a fun summer read. Lots of little details make this enjoyable. I particularly liked that early in the book, a character suggests that perhaps their lives are like water going down a drain, whirling around and around until they reach the hole; and then the last chapter was a sort of epitaph that whirled around and touched on the lives of all the minor characters. The book ended when the whole thing finally went down the drain! ( )
  GraceZ | Sep 6, 2014 |
The thought of trying to trying to summarise what happens in this book is making me tired. There's a 1960s story, in which a Hollywood fixer has to prevent the pregnancy of a young actress from damaging the publicity around a huge movie. This is interleaved with the modern day stories, where we see what has happened to the actress, her son, her husband, the fixer, his assistant, the assistant's useless boyfriend, a screenwriter pitching a movie to the fixer, the screenwriter's estranged girlfriend, and I think several other people as well.

OK, maybe that was a bit negative. In principle I like ambitious story-telling and I have no problem with jumping around between different narratives and timelines. And in some places, this book was excellent. The story could be compelling (especially in the 1960s - the modern-day stuff was a bit too 'messagey'), and I was interested enough to keep picking it up to read more.

But oh my goodness, I kept on wishing that the author would just calm down and stop trying to squeeze so much in. As well as the narratives we get a scene from a play, the pitch for a script, a chapter of a novel and another of a memoir... none of which add enough to the story to make them worthwhile. And the writing is just too much. Towards the end of the book I found this passage which encapsulates everything that I found annoying about the book:

But aren't all great quests folly? El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth and the search for intelligent life in the cosmos - we know what's out there. It's what isn't that truly compels us. Technology may have shrunk the epic journey to a couple of short car rides and regional jet legs - four states and twelve hundred miles traversed in an afternoon - but true quests aren't measured in time or distance anyway, so much as in hope. 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.

The same thoughts in two pithy sentences would have been great. Instead, it's a game of let-me-show-you-how-clever-I-am, chucking in cultural references and ornate wording ('serendipitous savant'!) and shoehorning in a reference to the book's movie theme ('scarecrows and tin men') for good measure.

This is not a terrible book, but it could have been so much better. ( )
  wandering_star | Aug 10, 2014 |
Not bad with many well done points of view distinctly read by Ballerini, good back and forth changes of time. The "real" Richard Burton is a bit much.
1 vote DromJohn | Aug 7, 2014 |
Dee Moray, a starlet from the Cleopatra filming, arrives Porto Vergogna being hidden away by the studio because of an unanticipated pregnancy resulting from a fling with the film's star. The hotel's owner, a starry-eyed young man, befriends Dee and tries to help her.

The story splits into a chronicle of Pasquale's troubles - his mother's death, his romance and finally his search for Dee - and the life that Dee finally made for herself and her son.

I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed because I had heard so many good things about this book and it didn't live up to my expectations. It was okay, but not great. ( )
  cyderry | Aug 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
Ruins constitutes a departure for Walter, another unplowed field, and he harrows it straight and true, turning up the fertile humus of the culture’s soiled psyche. Beautiful Ruins collides its broad range of characters in unexpected, unique ways, and the wonderful light touch of the satire makes them eminently believable. Unlike the Juvenalian satirists, whose righteous indignation sometimes results in flat, two-dimensional, cardboard characterizations, Walter’s people inspire sympathy, belief, even a little self-examination. Am I like this? Do I have any qualities that resemble the ones I’m reading about here? If I do, where do I get help?

Jess Walter has written a novel that sprawls on the lawn, looks up fondly at the achingly blue American sky and gazes into the deep humor of our collective human condition. That’s what good satire does—it reminds us who we really are. Humans.
added by zhejw | editPaste, David Langness (Aug 7, 2012)
 
Walter is simply great on how we live now, and ­— in this particular book — on how we lived then and now, here and there. “Beautiful Ruins” is his Hollywood novel, his Italian novel and his Pacific Northwestern novel all braided into one: an epic romance, tragicomic, invented and reported (Walter knows his “Cleopatra” trivia), magical yet hard-boiled (think García Márquez meets Peter Biskind), with chapters that encompass not just Italy in the ’60s and present-day Hollywood, but also Seattle and Britain and Idaho, plot strands unfolding across the land mines of the last half-century — an American landscape of vice, addiction, loss and heartache, thwarted careers and broken dreams. It is also a novel about love: amorous love, filial love, parental love and the deep, sustaining love of true friendship....

His balanced mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel. Any reservations the reader might have about another book about Hollywood, about selling one’s soul (or someone else’s, and pocketing the change) will probably be swept aside by this high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. Walter is a talented and original writer.
added by zhejw | editNew York Times, Helen Schulman (Jul 6, 2012)
 
This novel is a standout not just because of the inventiveness of its plot, but also because of its language. Jess Walter is essentially a comic writer: Sometimes he's asking readers to laugh at the human condition; sometimes he's inviting us to just plain laugh.
added by zhejw | editNPR, Maureen Corrigan (Jun 18, 2012)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jess Walterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballerini, EdoardoNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
To Anne, Brooklyn, Ava, and Alec
First words
The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly -- in a boat that motored into the cove, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier.
Quotations
Pasquo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is rght, the happier you will be.(page 304)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Follows a young Italian innkeeper and his almost-love affair with a beautiful American starlet, which draws him into a glittering world filled with unforgettable characters.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061928127, Hardcover)

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:24 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A novel that spans fifty years. The Italian housekeeper and his long-lost American starlet; the producer who once brought them together, and his assistant. A glittering world filled with unforgettable characters.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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