Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter (+)

There are three contemporary authors that I consider favorites that have all received enormous hype for their recent novels.  Those authors are:  Gillian Flynn, Philipp Meyer, and Jess Walter.  Until now, I have not read any of these books.  I think I have a healthy aversion to hype.  However...

I'm a big fan of these authors, and while I am STILL trying to broaden my reading horizons, there is something to be said for reading what you like.  So, yeah, I picked up Walter's Beautiful Ruins.  The book with the horrendous, Chick-lit like cover.

So is the hype warranted?

That depends, have you read Citizen Vince?  It's the better book in my opinion.  But with Beautiful Ruins, Walter appears to be doing what I'm attempting to do with my reading...broaden his horizons in the form of his readership. 

From the start, I didn't think he was going to pull it off.  The first chapter laid the groundwork for the global hopping, character hopping story that will come, and was mostly scene setting.  As a result, the chapter lacked much of the Walter's fabulous voice that is the primary reason for my adoration.  Fortunately, in the next few chapters Walter's witty magic eased back into play, so that by page 50 or so I was again exalting his talents.

The story follows an unlikely group of characters through many decades and countries, establishing the unlikely ties binding them altogether.  Ultimately the story is ABOUT an Italian villager seeking out they beautiful American actress, who came to stay at his hotel, some 50 years earlier.  Tangentially, it is also about the sleazy Hollywood producer that caused their initial meeting by trying to cover-up the actress' affair and resulting pregnancy with Richard Burton; the Actress'-Burton's illegitimate son's recovery from addiction and artistic failures, a production assistant to the sleazy producer who is hanging on to her dreams of making "good" films in Hollywood and changing her beefcake boyfriend with the porn addiction, and a wannabe screenwriter trying to pitch a movie about cannibals to the sleazy producer.  Of course, there is also Burton who is a victim to the sleazy producer, his own vices of sex and booze, and primarily his narcissism.

The themes seem to be about getting past regret and dealing with artistic failure.  Or possibly redefining artistic success in such a way that maybe, there is no regret.  And then just extend that to love.

It's not Citizen Vince.  But it is pretty damn good.

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