This was an interesting book, despite being difficult to read–not because of its subject matter, but its organization. It had a relatively simple storyline, as Jess Walter himself states. But the narrative drive was zero to none. Not that that’s a bad thing, especially in a novel Walter describes as ‘post-modern.’ It’s just that it’s hard to stick with a book that keeps circling around its story instead of driving through it with traditional narrative tools like conflict, tension and suspense.
Let me tell you a little about the book. It’s set in two places and two time periods. The first is Porto Vergogna, Italy, in 1962. The second is Los Angeles (with a trip to Idaho interspersed) in the present. The main character is a beautiful actress named Dee Moray who has an affair with Richard Burton (of Camelot fame) which results in an unintended pregnancy. Fast forward to the present day and we find an eclectic if odd group of people (a sort of modern-day Donner Party according to Walter) in search of Ms. Moray many years later. The most empathetic of these people is Pasquale, owner of the Hotel Adequate View in Italy, where we first meet Ms. Moray.
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? And it is, despite its narrative peculiarities. Beautiful Ruins is definitely a book worth reading, especially if you’re a student of contemporary literature. The interview with Walter at the end of the ebook version is also worth reading. Insightful and interesting, this is where Mr. Walter describes his writing process (BR took Walter 15 years to complete) and his unusual view of time–in the novel as well as life.