Friday, October 5, 2012

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter

The cover of Beautiful Ruins has an old-fashioned Technicolor look that is the perfect complement to Jess Walter's exceedingly witty social satire, which spans five decades; two continents; humor, heartbreak, and a gamut of feelings in between.  

The book begins in 1962 in an Italian town called Porto Vergogna, whose only hotel is owned by the family of a young man named Pasquel. Pasquel wants to doll up his village to attract American tourists; up until now, his family’s hotel (with a name that translates to The Hotel Adequate View) has had only one guest from the U.S., an unknown writer named Alvis Bender, who has struggled in his annual visits to complete just a single chapter of his first book.

Pasquel soon has things on his mind other than making his village more tourist-friendly, because a stunning, blond, American actress named Dee Moray has checked into the hotel.  Moray has a small part in the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton epic Cleopatra, which is being filmed nearby. A fictionalized version of the latter, aided and abetted by a character named Michael Deane, takes on a key role later in the novel.

Skip ahead 50 years and Michael Deane and his assistant Claire Silver are working in Hollywood when Pasquel shows up, barely speaking English, determined to find Dee, and accompanied by a man named Shane who Deane assumes to be a translator.  Why does Pasquel want to find Dee now? Why does Deane jump on board so fast?  Is Shane really a translator? How does Claire fit in?  Did Alvis Bender finally finish his novel?  And will Pasquel ever meet Dee again?  Find out in this charming, escapist book, which transports readers back and forth in time, seamlessly weaving the funny, tragic, and tender stories of half a dozen characters.

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