How gorgeous is that cover??
I so loved Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets that I was quite excited to get an ARC of Beautiful Ruins. The story begins in 1962, when a young blonde starlet with a terrible disease is brought to a miniscule Italian village to rest in an inn there. By the time the book is over, the time has stretched to the present and involved more Italians and a lot more Hollywood-ians, including Richard Burton in a pivotal role.
Just as in Poets, Walter has a wonderful way of making his characters real and engaging, even when they're behaving poorly. They often have a wry view of the world, such as the American writer who travels each year to the same inn as the starlet. When the innkeeper asks him why he keeps coming back, here is his response:
"Bender pondered the wine in his hand. 'A writer needs four things to achieve greatness, Pasquale: desire, disappointment, and the sea.'
"'That's only three.'
"Alvis finished his wine. 'You have to do disappointment twice.'"
Walter takes on some heady topics in this book. Fate, karma, the butterfly effect, and how the choices we make play out over the decades. While I applaud the ambition, at times I felt like he lost control of his material. The ending is one giant recap of what happened to every single character, and it felt forced in a bad-movie kind of way. Some of the secondary characters (I'm talking about you, Claire) were just not that interesting compared to the starlet, Pasquale the innkeeper, and Richard Burton.
But if you like books that are set in Italy and/or Hollywood, and you like following arge casts of characters over several decades, this will be your cup of tea.