If any book can come close to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl as the Best Book of the Year, it’ll be Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins (Harper hc, $25.99, signing Friday June 29th, noon). It matches hers for creativity, wit and a wicked view of humantiy.
Here’s how we wrote it up for our Summer newsletter: Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (June, Harper hc, $25.99). On an Italian coastline in 1962, a young innkeeper sees a vision of stunning beauty – a young, American starlet – and is heartbroken to learn she is dying. 50 years later, in Hollywood, an elderly Italian man appears on a studio backlot, searching for a woman he hasn’t seen since 1962. A story of mystery, romance and enduring love. (Doesn’t appear to involve crime but we’ll follow Jess anywhere he goes!)
The story moves between different time frames: when the innkeeper Pasquale first sees the starlet; ‘recently’, in Hollywood; during WWII; and a few years ago. As the story hops around, you begin to see more and more of the story as it unfolds and folds back upon itself, filling itself in, filling itself up.
All the while, Jess laces the story with touches of satire, humor and always stunning writing: “But then she turned directly to him, and the disparate features of her drastic face came together as a single, perfect thing, and Pasquale recalled from his studies how some buildings in Florence could disappoint from various angles and yet always presented well in relief, always photographed well; that the various vantages were made to be composed; and so, too, he thought, some people. 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 muich with the woman, whom he didn’t even know, but with the moment.”
These passages weave through the narrative, alternating with ribald commentary on life and our altogether too-human foibles. Love, lust, hope and dreams – and our inane pursuits. “All of her gagged responses to three years of ludicrous ideas and moronic pitches gush out in teary, breathless laughter. An effects-driven peroid thriller about cowboy cannibals? Three hours of sorrow and degradation, all to find out the hero’s son is…dessert?”
It occurred to me as I read this terrific book that it – just like Gillian’s new book – shared something with one of my all-time favorites, The World According to Garp. What they share is a healthy disdain for phoniness and fakers and a reverence for the ‘normal’ people who are simply trying to make a go of their lives, even if they are just x-rated soap operas.
There is no crime in Beautiful Ruins, unless you count the crimes we commit against others and ourselves. This is a charming book. And hysterical. It may be fiction but it feels so true.
“And because he felt like he might burst open and because he lacked the dexterity in English to say all that he was thinking – how in his estimation, the more you lived the more regret and longing you suffered, that life as a glorious catastrophe…”
Oh, and be warned - first printings are going fast. Reserve one now.