Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
This was one of those books that's been building up lots of buzz lately.  I've read about it online, seen it at my favorite bookstore, Village Books, and watched it climb bestseller lists.  However, I wasn't really sure it was 'my kind of book.'  With a little bit of patience, I was proved so very wrong.

Walters takes the lives of a variety of people, relates their varied stories, and eventually pulls them all together in a truly stunning fashion.  We begin with the delightful Pasquale, a young innkeeper on the Lingurian Sea (if you've been to the Cinque Terra in Italy, you know right where this is!).  Throw in a mysterious and young and beautiful actress, a PTSD-scarred war veteran, a creepily preserved Hollywood producer, his idealistic and hopeful assistant, a screenwriter with perhaps the worst screenplay idea EVER, and a drug-addled young man.  (Oh, and let's not forget Richard Burton and Cleopatra)  What, pray tell, could these people all have in common?  Ah, that is the great answer that Walter creates in a compelling and brilliant fashion.  Who knew the doomed Donner party expedition could be such a thoughtful motif to weave through a book?

After listening to it for about six hours (yep, one of my audible.com purchases) however, I was ready to throw in the towel.  The constant changing of story lines, from one character to the next, was disconcerting.  As soon as I got to care a bit about what was going on in one person's life, the story changed and I was on to another.  I think perhaps if I had a paper copy, I could have flipped back through and caught up with that person again once I returned to his/her story.  With that said, the second half of this book is merely...stunning.  I was compelled to push through, becoming completely and utterly engrossed in each person's story, and more importantly, in how we are all connected in so many infinitesimal ways.  I can't wait for my book-reading friends to read this book, as I have SO much I want to discuss with you!!!

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