October 15, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Then she smiled, and in that instant, if such a thing were possible, Pasquale fell in love, and he would remain in love for the rest of his life- not so much with the woman, whom he didn't even know, but with the moment.
-from Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

{buy here}

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is a novel that artistically layers a variety of narratives to illustrate the complexities behind what we love, what we want and how we choose to live our lives. The book begins in Italy in 1962 where Pasquale, a young innkeeper of a small barely-known village, meets Dee, a beautiful, young actress staying at his hotel, and instantly falls in love. The second chapter transports the reader to present-day Hollywood where Pasquale, now an old man, is in search of Dee fifty years later. Each chapter defies chronology by showing the reader different glimpses into Pasquale and Dee's story over the past fifty years. The book also integrates the effects Pasquale and Dee have on other people by artfully weaving together a collage of different stories to illustrate the impact the characters have on each other and to emphasize how each life is connected to another.

There is so much to say about Beautiful Ruins; so much to explicate that this is another novel I wish I had read in college so I could write a full term paper on it! Jess Walter successfully creates a myriad of stories with an impressive cast of characters that aren't confusing or competitive. I think this works because he dedicates entire chapters narrated in third-person omniscient with a focus to a specific character's experience. This gives us a better understanding of each character's motivations and feelings while getting time to "bond" with them and grow to like or dislike them.

Understanding and forming opinions of each character's motivations is central to understanding one of the major themes of the book. At one point, Pasquale's mother tells him, "The smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be." This is a concept that every character in the book struggles with and Walter proves through each strand in his book that this happiness is not simple nor easily achieved. Each character wants what they want, be it fame, successful career, drugs, love or happiness, but they all struggle to find a balance between that and their responsibilities.

Aside from the interesting themes and analyses, I enjoyed Walter's writing, especially the witty and realistic dialogue. Like a good movie, every image Walter conjures in his book has a purpose and he brings poignant focus on even the most remote characters in the story. The only complaint I have is that while I enjoyed the mode of storytelling, some characters I cared about less than others and I would grow frustrated having to read a whole chapter about them. In the end this frustration was worth the effort and all of the information given was important for the final product at the end of the book.

Bottom Line: Jess Walter is an excellent storyteller and this book is jam-packed with things that will make you think about you and those you affect most. Read this if you like a good story backed by complex reality and a good moral. ★★★★/5


  1. Sounds like an interesting read. I am so glad I found your blog. I have been searching for a great blog that reviews and recommends books. I am a very lazy reader and I tend to only read books if the first few pages capture my interest. Your reviews make have been very helpful to me. Thank you

    Catriona @ Precious Impressions

  2. I read this book too and liked it alot! I couldn't get over the descriptions of Italy, I wanted to be there so bad! I thought the characters were super interesting too! Great review!


Thank you so much for reading my blog! If you leave a comment I will try my best to email you back directly and visit your blog, too! If I can't find a way to get back to you, check back for a reply to your comment. Thanks again and happy reading!!