Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, is a delightful surprise. A reader might discount the potential for a meaningful plot line and well-developed characters when introduced to the young and ambitious producer’s assistant Claire and her porn-addicted boyfriend. Fortunately, the author introduces Pasquale, an innkeeper in the tiny oceanside town of Porto Vergogna, Italy, in the book’s first chapter.
Pasquale is a young Italian dreamer, son of the only hotel’s innkeeper, who inherits the property after the death of his father. Pasquale aches to build the property into a resort, complete with a mountainside tennis court, which will attract famous and wealthy Americans to the tiny town and mostly nonexistent beach. When a Hollywood starlet arrives under unusual circumstances, he falls in love with her during her short visit.
Dee Moray is cast in a minor role in the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton film “Cleopatra” but leaves the set when she is diagnosed with stomach cancer. Sent to Porto Vergogna to remove her from the attention of Burton, Moray learns that it was not a tumor that she has but a baby, and the film’s PR head, Michael Deane, conspires to remove Dee as a distraction to Burton since movie fans were enjoying the fiery relationship between the film’s lead stars.
Stitched between modern day and the early 1960s, Pasquale and Moray lead separate lives which are eventually reunited through the help of Claire, Michael Deane’s assistant, and an aspiring screenplay writer. Both Pasquale and Dee learn to accept what’s possible and what isn’t—like building a tennis court on the side of a mountain or luring Richard Burton away from Liz Taylor—but are still able to find enrichment in the families they built while away from each other.
Walter does a masterful job telling a story about making things right, healing old wounds, and coping with events that are outside of our control. The characters are likable and grow in the face of challenges. Beautiful Ruins is a moving story, and was published in 2012 by HarperCollins.