Fable, follies and fate
Against the crisp blue of the faultless Italian sky, a young man tosses rocks into the sea, stubbornly trying to create the beach that will transform his sad little pensione into the classy resort that will cater to brilliant Americans and suave film stars of the swinging sixties. The drone of a boat motor interrupts his thoughts, and as he pauses in his Sisyphean task, he sees a vision coming towards him. She is tall, striking and lovely, an American film star here to stay at the Hotel Adequate View, and she is dying. And in that moment, Pasquale knows that his life will never be the same again…
…and the orchestra swells as the opening credits splash across the screen. In Jess Walter’s swoon-worthy new novel, scenes are imagined in throbbing Technicolor, a larger-than-life quality that glories in its own grandeur with a wink to the viewer that no such scenery could ever exist in reality. At least that is the world that Dee Moray has recently stepped out of when she lands on Pasquale’s nonexistent beach. A survivor of the Cleopatra production underway in Rome, Dee awaits the arrival of one Michael Deane, whose lack of appearance drives Pasquale on to a fifty year quest. Jump forward to modern day Hollywood and Deane, preserved with the best (?) plastic surgery has to offer, is now foisting cringe-worthy reality TV on the public while his disillusioned production assistant Claire mulls over a job offer from the Scientologists. That all changes when Pasquale walks through the door with the name of an actress that Deane can’t forget. Along with a slacker screenwriter, Claire, Pasquale and Deane set out to find a would-be star, and the witness firsthand the effects from one of the great all-consuming love stories in Hollywood history.
From the Italian Riviera to the backwoods of north Idaho, Walter creates a wry fable on the follies of Hollywood, and the fate of those brushed by fame. Walter’s writing shines at every turn: his depiction of the sunny Italian coast sparkles even as it captures the slow decay of Pasquale’s sorry village, and the book is populated with a secondary cast of character actors that is especially memorable. I particularly loved the too brief portrait of great actor Richard Burton, boozing it up with a bewildered Pasquale in tow. One of the most buzzed about novels of the summer, Beautiful Ruins lives up to the hype.