Book Review: ‘Beautiful Ruins’ by Jess Walter

An extraordinary tale that takes us from that long-ago Italy to modern-day Hollywood—with a cast of unforgettable characters.

Sometimes a good book is all about balance. It should be accessible, yet challenging. Funny, yet insightful. Makes you laugh, makes you cry. Filled with everyman characters with everyday foibles who can rise to heroic levels when needed, counterbalanced by a smattering of colorful oddballs.

This summer, I found such a gem. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is that rare book that covers all my bases. It opens in a tiny coastal Italian village circa 1962, where young Pasquale Tursi is building a tennis court to elevate his rundown hotel to resort level. The rustic inn gets few visitors, so Pasquale is shocked when a beautiful American actress arrives. Lovely Dee Moray has been sent to this remote location to cope with an undisclosed serious illness. She’s weak, she’s frail, she is perhaps dying. Pasquale is instantly smitten by her beauty and her plight.

Thus begins an extraordinary tale that takes us from that long-ago Italy to modern-day Hollywood, a story that juggles not only an unforgettable collection of characters, but also juxtaposes past and present lives, dreams both filled and unfulfilled, and the promise of futures both possible and perhaps impossible. Walter’s prose sings, and his imagination soars in this unique and memorable novel.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Amy Reilly
Amy Reilly is executive editor of Reader’s Digest Select Editions.