Tag: Jess Walker

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This was author Jess Walter’s sixth novel and it received much critical acclaim.  NPR’s Fresh Air podcast named it the best book of 2012.  Readers on Amazon and Goodreads almost universally love it.  And yet, five days after I finished reading it, I remain ambivalent. There was a lot to like with this book, but equally as much not to like.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walker

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Historical Romance or Literary Fiction

Beautiful Ruins is labeled Historical Romance and also Literary Fiction, but it’s definitely not your typical bodice ripping, hero saves the day historical romance.  In fact, so very little romance actually occurs that it’s difficult to see why it would be labeled as such.  The only truly romantic character was Pasquale, whom we meet in the opening scene:

She smiles at him and Pasquale falls in love, and “would remain in love for the rest of his life — not so much with the woman, whom he didn’t even know, but with the moment.”

While Pasquale remains in love his whole life with the memory of Dee Moray, the movie star who appears in his small village in Italy,  he goes on to experience love and a full life with another woman.  The memory of Dee Moray haunts him, though, and at the end of his life he endeavors to find her and to learn what happened to her and her child.

For all of Pasquale’s romanticism, Beautiful Ruins is a study of relationships and the never-ending quest and need for love, whether from a parent/child, a lover/spouse, or friends.

Beautiful Mess

Beautiful Ruins took 15 years to write and, at 372 pages, it felt like it took that long to read.  The story jumps back and forth between different time periods and locations — Italy in the 1960s, America, England and Scotland in the 1980s, present day in Hollywood and Idaho — so that you almost needed a calendar and globe to keep track.

The writing was a hodge-podge of different styles; in addition to the normal chapters, also included was the script of a play, the complete first chapter of a never-to-be-finished novel, and a screenplay pitch on the infamous Donner party, among other oddities.  It reminded me of one of my attempts at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where I needed to achieve 50,000 words by the end of the month and had run out of things to write, so I included grocery lists and Christmas letters to achieve my word count.

Surprises

 There are several strong female characters in Beautiful Ruins and perhaps that is why I believed the author, Jess Walter, to be female.  Or maybe it’s because historical romance authors are predominantly female.  In any case, when I finished the book and began to read the “P.S. Insights, Interviews & More…” section at the end of the Kindle version of Beautiful Ruins, I was shocked to discover that “Jess” was male!  I’m not sure it makes any difference, but I was truly surprised.  Actually, I think it was the only surprising thing about the whole novel.  The book itself seemed predictable – chaotic but unsurprising.

I was glad for the “Insights, Interviews & More…” section at the end of the book, as that led to more understanding about the Walter’s intent when writing Beautiful Ruins.  For example:

I wondered if the truth we know from physics—that an object has the most stored energy in the moment right before it acts (think of a drawn bow)— was true of romance, too, if potential wasn’t, in some way, love’s most powerful form.

Jess Walter also shared:

I was reading The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera and I came across this: “There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact.” This, I saw, could be the ending of the book, a way of acknowledging the power of certain moments in our lives. These are the ruins of our memories, which loom in our minds like the Parthenon, even as they are decayed and weathered by time and regret. I hoped to convey the significance of such isolated moments in our lives, to show that Pasquale and Dee’s first meeting—which had kicked around in my own head since 1997— might indeed be powerful enough to drive him to find her almost fifty years later.

 As grateful as I was for that section of the book, I shouldn’t have needed it.  I should have gleaned at least some of his intentions from simply reading the book.  The fact that I didn’t frustrates me, and I don’t think good literature should leave the reader feeling frustrated.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

____________________________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 63. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – Discussion begins April 2, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker prize

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

Writers can learn a lot from reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker. In addition to containing a treasure trove of writing techniques to study, it also discusses the process — from writing a novel to pitching to agents — in a wryly humorous way.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walker

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary of main plot:  Touted both as literary fiction and a historical romance, Beautiful Ruins follows the lives of five people, including Pasquale Tursi and a young movie star named Dee Moray, who meet by chance in an Italian village. Years later Pasquale comes to Hollywood to find her.

Genre:

The novel has been called historical romance, but it isn’t like most romance novels. It is more about multiple facets of relationships of several characters through a lifetime than a single romance as a major plot line. In the video below, Jess Walter says the novel is a collection of “celebrations of moments,” which seems more appropriate.

Although it does have elements of literary fiction, the novel doesn’t check all those boxes either. It could be labeled as epistolary novel, because it contains excerpts of letters, novels, and screenplays, but only here and there. So, perhaps it should be called a partially epistolary novel with literary elements.

Characters:

Story lines diverge and converge through place and time throughout the book, so it is hard to define one main character. Instead there are several characters who play important roles:  Italian Pasquale Tursi, American actress Dee Moray, a fictionalized version of actor Richard Burton, film producer Michael Deane, his assistant Claire Silver, and writer Shane Wheeler.

Dialogue:

If you want examples of how to write dialogue, this is a perfect novel to study.  Walter gives each character a unique voice, plus he is a master at creating the dynamic tension that drives a great interchange. The conversation between Pasquale and and his friend since childhood, Orenzio, (when actress Dee Moray reveals she loves Pasquale’s eyes) says it all:

“No, she did. She is in love with my eyes”
“You are a liar, Pasqo, and an admirer of boys’ noodles.”
“It is true.”
“That you love boys’ noodles?”
“No. She said that about my eyes.”

Orenzio continues on with a series of inventive and warmly affectionate slurs against his friend as serious Pasquale interrogates him about the actress. It is a joy to read.

Setting of Beautiful Ruins

The characters travel throughout the world, but the two main settings are a small coastal village in Italy and Hollywood, California. Other locations in the novel include Edinburgh, Scotland; Seattle, Washington; Florence, Italy; Portland, Oregon; Truckee, California; and Sandpoint, Idaho.

The descriptions of Italy are particularly luscious. In the video below, Jess Walter explains his wife is of Italian descent, and how the visceral reactions he had when she took him to visit Italy were incorporated into the book.

 

Jess Walter’s responses in this video are full of insights for writers. It is worth the time to watch if you’ve ever thought of becoming a novelist. 

 

About Writing

Floating just under the surface for the most part, but popping up here and there are gems of information about writing. Some of it is in the words themselves. In addition to the pitch-perfect dialogue, Walter mixes things up with style and tone. He writes in present tense in some places and past tense in others. Most of the narrative is in third person point of view, but the first person point of view is included, too. Beginning writers could almost use the novel as a textbook to investigate different elements of writing.

Jess Walter also dabbles in metafiction. Screenwriter Shane Wheeler’s experiences with pitching a movie in many ways mirror pitching a novel to a literary agent. Alvis, a novelist who keeps re-writing the same chapter, may reflect some of the author’s personal struggles. As Jess Walter reveals in the video, it took him 15 years to write and publish Beautiful Ruins. He “hit a stone wall,” put it aside, and then picked it up again later when he had matured as a writer, or had ideas for revising and moving past the problems. Having hit a few walls myself, it was helpful to realize that bestselling authors have overcome the same hurtles.

All in all, Beautiful Ruins has much to offer to readers and writers, alike. If nothing else, it is likely to inspire people to take a trip to Italy.

 

 

Join us on social media:

____________________________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 63. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – Discussion begins April 2, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker prize

#BestsellerCode100: Number 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walker

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Touted both as literary and a historical romance, Beautiful Ruins follows the lives of five people, including Pasquale Tursi and a young movie star named Dee Moray, who meet by chance in an Italian village. Years later Pasquale comes to Hollywood to find her.

 

beautiful ruins

Have you read Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 63. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – Discussion begins April 2, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker prize

#BookBeginnings Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

Today we’re starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walker for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-beautiful-ruins

Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walker

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Touted both as literary and a historical romance, Beautiful Ruins follows the lives of five people, including Pasquale Tursi and a young movie star named Dee Moray, who meet by chance in an Italian village. Years later Pasquale comes to Hollywood to find her.

First Sentence:

April 1962

Porto Vergogna, Italy

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.

Discussion:

I like how it introduces a character, setting, and tone all in one sentence.

Have you seen this book? The font is unusual in the paperback version. It is incredibly tiny and the text runs right to the edge of the page. It may be  challenging physically to read this one.

Have you read Beautiful Ruins?

Does the look of the page change your enjoyment of a book?

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