Rated Reads

Beautiful Ruins

by Jess Walter

Rated: High

In 1962 a beautiful actress comes to stay for a while in a tiny village on the coast of Italy, believing she is dying of cancer. The young man who runs his family’s hotel naturally falls for her.

In the current day, the Italian man is now old but looking for the beautiful and kind actress in Hollywood. He starts his search with a longtime producer, the very man who escorted Dee Moray to his little village. Meanwhile, the producer’s assistant is tiring of the reality-TV junk her boss has churned out recently, yearning to make quality films, and a so-far-unsuccessful writer hopes to pitch a movie idea. All converge in Michael Deane’s office.

The story goes back and forth between 1962 and now, and a few spots in between, with another aspiring writer’s first chapter thrown in, as well as part of a play. For much of the book, the pieces of the story seem unrelated and even random, but at the end, they all come together. Because of the seeming randomness of the book’s composition, I sometimes found myself  wondering why the book had gotten some rave reviews. But I found the conclusion satisfying and was then mostly pleased with the interesting way the author had built his story. Even so, I still felt a bit curious as to why the book garnered such high marks among critics (I read about it in several publications and had the impression it was a great summer/beach read, a conclusion I dispute). It was a kind of parody of the shallowness and anything-for-a-buck mentality of Hollywood, but it also was a very human story of people whose lives took a long time to come together.

Rated: High, for more than 30 uses of strong language, plus plenty of other milder language, as well as some brief sex scenes. There were lots of crude sexual references as well.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Beautiful Ruins
  • by Jess Walter
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: