I’m still working on our Italy images, but until they’re ready, perhaps you ought to bury yourself in the most fabulous Italian novel!   I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but Jessica’s review makes me so happy and excited for it that I bought it on my phone while we were chatting about it over brunch.  That good!

Italy Cinque Terre 28 Flipping Pages: Beautiful Ruins(a few frames from our trip to Portovenere in December 2011)


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

As part of our Summertime Wanderlust reading series, let’s travel to Italy! It might be my favorite country in the whole wide world, but you know what’s better than just plain Italy: Italy in the early 60′s…with movie stars! Bananas, I know. Actually, this is the perfect “my body can’t travel, but my mind can” book because, in addition to Italy, Walter takes us to so many different places (the Pacific Northwest, Hollywood, Idaho, London and Edinburgh) and times (1960′s, present day, the end of WWII, 1980′s). By the second chapter, I was completely caught up in this delectably inter-woven story. I am forever in awe of a storyteller who can take several seemingly unrelated strands and turn them into one lovely story. It’s tough to achieve, so when it’s done well, I can think of nothing more enjoyable to peruse.

The novel begins in the tiny (fictional) coastal village of Porto Vergogna, home to a few fisherman and not much else. It’s 1962, there’s not a whole lot going on, but Pasquale Tursi has great aspirations for his family’s teeny hotel there. (The name of his hotel is Hotel Adequate View. I dare you not to laugh at that.) He dreams that one day, American tourists will flock to his place, much as they’d started to visit the nearby Cinque Terre. But the village isn’t connected to the rail lines. It’s so small and insignificant that it can barely sustain its handful of inhabitants. This makes it the perfect lay-low-lair for a dying young actress, Dee Moray, who flees the set of Cleopatra in Rome and appears on the docks and stays in Pasquale’s hotel. With her, Dee brings the all messiness of the whole modern world, changing the little village, and Pasquale forever.

Other characters include Claire Silver, a creative assistant who left her broody/serious academic endeavors for a job at a dying production company. (The only problem I have with Claire is that she lives in Santa Monica, works on the Universal Lot and her commute is described as taking exactly 18 minutes. This is impossible. But let’s not get bogged down.) Her boyfriend is an out-of-work actor with good looks and a porn addiction. Her boss, Michael Deane, used to be a huge Hollywood player, but is nearing the end of his life and trying to hold on to some of his former success. Shane Wheeler is an all-around failure, living with his parents after his recent divorce and hoping to sell his screenplay to Deane’s company. It’s about the Donner Party. As in, cannibals. An in, people eating people. As in, why would anyone want to see that movie?! Lucky us, one of the chapters in Beautiful Ruins is Shane’s pitch for his movie, which is called Donner!, so we get to see the magic unfold. Another chapter is the first and only chapter of a book that a failed writer and frequent guest at the Hotel Adequate View has left behind in one of the rooms. That one little stand-alone chapter made my eyes water like crazy (as in, I was NOT crying!)

All of these character’s stories are beautifully inter-woven to a perfect climax, after which, all of the ends are tied up like a pretty little gift to yourself. (As in, please do yourself a favor and read this book!) Calgon only takes me to my bathtub, (which, after a moment of soaking, I invariably wish was cleaner, thereby causing me to question my housekeeping skills as a whole. It’s all quite depressing) but this book is transporting!

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