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BEAUTIFUL RUINS  by Jess Walter

Mr. Walter writes:

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. She wavered a moment in the boat's stern, then extended a slender hand to grip the mahogany railing; with the other, she pressed a wide-brimmed hat against her head. All around her, shards of sunlight broke on the flickering waves.

Twenty meters away, Pasquale Tursi watched the arrival of the woman as if in a dream. Or rather, he would think later, a dream's opposite: a burst of clarity after a lifetime of sleep. Pasquale straightened and stopped what he was doing, what he was usually doing that spring, trying to construct a beach below his family's empty pensione. Chest deep in the cold Ligurian Sea, Pasquale was tossing rocks the size of cats in an attempt to fortify the breakwater, to keep the waves from hauling away his little mound of construction sand.

I was hooked after those two opening paragraphs! Little did I know that this was only one plotline of several that would present themselves as separate bits in myriad locales in various years, BUT that would, under Mr. Walter's adept baton merge together like the movements of a symphony to unfold a story of great humor, depth, pathos, romance, hope, and redemption.

The pivotal event that brings all the main characters together in Beautiful Ruins is, believe it or not, the making of the multi-million-dollar epic Cleopatra in Rome in 1962. And yes, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are characters written into the novel, along with insider details about production of the movie and the scandal that erupted when Taylor and Burton became lovers. Spoking out from that hub are several personal human dramas that unfold not only in Porto Vergogna in the Cinque Terre of Italy but also in Hollywood and Truckee, California; Edinburgh, Scotland; Seattle, Washington; and Sandpoint, Idaho.

It is a heady concoction! I could not put it down. And since finishing the novel, I have considered reading it again for I miss Pasquale and Dee (the actress), Porto Vergogna, The Adequate View Hotel (Pasquale's pensione), Rome, and Cleopatra! In all fairness, I must say that Mr. Walter does ramble on in places, and that got tiresome, so I slid by those spots and scanned down to the writing that had more meaning to me.

I find that Beautiful Ruins seeps into my consciousness everyday, and as time goes on I marvel even more at this outrageous and wonderful ride Jess Walter has created and blessed us with.

Give it a go, eh!

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