Beautiful Ruins (Paperback)
Harper Perennial, 9780061928178, 368pp.
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
July 2012 Indie Next List
— Sarah Harvey, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO
View the List
The #1 New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—Jess Walter’s “absolute masterpiece” (Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author): the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 and resurfaces fifty years later in contemporary Hollywood.
The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet. Hailed by critics and loved by readers of literary and historical fiction, Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962...and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later.
About the Author
Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, the winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.
Praise For Beautiful Ruins: A Novel…
— New York Times
“Walter is a very, very funny writer and can do Hollywood satire with the best of them. But this is also a novel with a live, beating heart, full of sympathy for its characters and a gut wisdom…You’ll want to explore these Ruins.”
“Walter vividly draws a world both tender and cutthroat, where ambition battles reality, daydreams fight doldrums and sometimes win.”
“A marvel, an absolute gem of a beach read that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.”
— Huffington Post
“Expertly scratches the seasonal itch for both literary depth and dazzle.”
— Entertainment Weekly
“Entrancing…Walter’s turns of phrase are as brilliant as his plot twists, making for a compelling, fun read.”
“Lyrical, heartbreaking, and funny . . . Walter closes the deal with such command that you begin to wonder why up till now he’s not often been mentioned as one of the best novelists around. Beautiful Ruins might just correct that oversight.”
— Kansas City Star
“Beautiful . . . A shining, imaginative tale . . . Beautiful Ruins shows novelists how it is done.”
— The Plain Dealer
“His [Walter’s] characters are long-suffering, prone to failure and sometimes at death’s door. But the verve and enthusiasm of this novel, from its let’s-go-everywhere structure to the comedy in the marrow of its sentences, are wholly life-affirming.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A beautiful narrative . . . This writer is a genius of the modern American moment.”
— Philadelphia Inquirer
“A novel shot in sparkly Technicolor. . . . reimagines history in a package so appealing we’d be idiots not to buy it.”
— Library Journal (starred review)
“Well-constructed…quirky and entertaining tale of greed, treachery, and love.”
— Publishers Weekly
“This is a blockbuster, with romance, majesty, comedy, smarts, and a cast of thousands. There’s lights, there’s camera, there’s action. If you want anything more from a novel than Jess Walter gives you in Beautiful Ruins, you’re getting thrown out of the theater.”
— Daniel Handler, author of Why We Broke Up and creator of Lemony Snicket
“[N]othing less than brilliant, a tour de force that crosses decades, continents, and genres, to powerful and often hilarious effect....A masterful novel of love, loss, and hard-won hope that satisfies on every level.”
— Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
“Within a page-turner of a plot, these triumphantly vulnerable characters leap off the page to take up permanent residence in your inner life. The effect is so powerful that to be untouched by Beautiful Ruins might well be like having no inner life at all.”
— Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
“A brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. . . . Walter’s prose is a joy-funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He’s taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that’s life-affirming but never saccharine.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A novel with pathos, piercing wit and, most important, the generous soul of a literary classic. . . . Walter has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors.”
— Boston Globe
“A literary miracle.”
— Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
“Beautiful Ruins is satisfying and delicate, a spectacular story of love, frustration, selfish intent, and the patience of the human heart.”
— The Stranger
“[A] high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. . . . [Walter’s] mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel.”
— New York Times Book Review
“His masterpiece . . . an interlocking, continent-hopping, decade-spanning novel with heart and pathos to burn, all big dreams, lost loves, deep longings and damn near perfect.”
“It is a powerful and lush book.”
— Selma Blair, the New York Post
“A great getaway of a novel.”
“Beautiful Runs is itself a showcase for Walter’s outrageous literary gifts in virtually every genre and style. . .No wonder critics have been outdoing each other with superlatives. . .”
— Nashville Scene
“Combines satisfying, old-fashioned storytelling with a modern sensibility.”
— Becky Aikman
“[An] enchanting novel. . . Sweeping effortlessly back and forth between Italy and current-day Hollywood, and between various modes of storytelling, Walters builds a world that won’t soon let you go.”
— Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- What does the title, Beautiful Ruins, refer to and how does it capture the essence of the novel?
- At the beginning of the story, Pasquale Tursi is waiting "for life to come and find him." Is Dee Moray the "life" he was waiting for? Do you think most people wait for life—like a movie—to begin? Why?
- When he first sees Dee, Pasquale thinks, "Life is a blatant act of imagination." Explain what he means. Do you agree with Pasquale?
- Most of the novel's characters—Alvis Bender, Dee Moray, Shane Wheeler, Claire Silver, Pat Bender, even Richard Burton—have dreams. What are these dreams and how do they parallel and collide? How do their dreams play out in their lives? What would life be like if we didn't have dreams? What happens when they don't come true?
- Americans pride themselves on the "American dream." What does this term mean to you? Do you think it is still attainable today? How much of our notions of the American Dream are shaped by Hollywood? Think about Shane Wheeler, the screenwriter, whose life's motto is Act as if ye have faith and it shall be given to you: "His was an outlook fed by years of episodic TV, by encouraging teachers and counselors, by science fair ribbons, participant medals, and soccer and basketball trophies—and, most of all, by two attentive and dutiful parents, who raise their five perfect children with the belief—hell, with the birthright—that as long as they had faith in themselves, they could be anything they wanted to be." Is faith enough—or hard work—to make our dreams come true? Can we truly be, achieve, or do anything we desire?
- Claire Silver, the chief development assistant for legendary film producer Michael Deane, was enchanted by the magic of Hollywood when she saw Breakfast at Tiffany's two days before her tenth birthday. How do you think this movie shaped who she became? Was it for better or for worse? Is it the idea of fame that draws people to Hollywood, or something else? Is Hollywood as influential on lives today as it was through much of the twentieth century?
- How would you characterize Michael Deane? One reviewer commented that he "has finer hidden instincts than the ones he has allowed to shape his life." When we meet him, Michael Deane seems like a parody of a Hollywood producer. What are the driving forces that propel his actions and how do they confound our expectations?
- At the center of the novel, though largely offstage, is the legendary Hollywood production of Cleopatra. How is the movie symbolic of the novel's themes? How does Hollywood both fuel fantasies and destroy dreams? How is this demonstrated in the experiences of the novel's characters?
- In Hollywood, everything happens because of the pitch. Have we become a nation of individuals pitching to each other? How would you pitch your life story to someone? How would you pitch Beautiful Ruins?
- In the present day, the elderly Pasquale shares the story of his first meeting with Dee, describing it as "the moment that lasts forever." Why is this so for Pasquale? How does this revelation influence Shane and Claire? Have you ever had a moment like this?
- How do dreams—like love—inspire us and hurt us? Do you agree with Michael's adage: we want what we want? Do you think this changes with age and maturity?
- Years later, Alvin tells Dee, "All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history and character—what we believe—none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell. But here's the thing: It's our goddamned story!" What about life—your own or someone you know—is real? How much do we control in our lives? What happens when we let other people tell our story for us?
- How would you describe Beautiful Ruins?