Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini
Length: 12 hours 53 minutes
It is 1962, and on the coastline of Italy, a young man is desperately hauling sand to a little inlet to create a beach for his father’s hotel, The Adequate View. When the man turns toward the water, he spies a boat getting closer and closer. This boat carries the hotel’s first American guest, a dying starlet who has been removed from the set of Cleopatra to die in peace and obscurity. But all is not what it seems at The Hotel Adequate View. Meanwhile, in a parallel storyline occurring in the current year, an unlikely group of people will all converge (for different reasons, of course) at the studio where the dying starlet once captivated the heart of a famous star. From the flop director to his assistant who has bigger dreams and the man who hopes to produce his film and see Hollywood success, they will all become entangled in the dreams of the young Italian boy, who is now an old man, and has come to America to have a myriad of puzzling questions answered. In this verbally taut and finely crafted novel, Jess Walter proves that he is not only a comedic author, but one that can weave generational heartache betwixt gaiety and profundity. Beautiful Ruins is a story that teases and tantalizes as it pulls its readers gently down the steep slope of its peculiar secrets and its shocking revelations.
After a trying few months of being underwhelmed by reading paper or e-books, I decided that for a little while, I would go with audio. This seems to be the right choice for me, as I am listening more avidly than I ever have before. Seeing this book in the bookstore daunted me due to its hefty size, and so, after reading Sandy’s glowing review, I bought it for myself on audio. I think that choosing Edoardo Ballerini as the narrator for this book was a stroke of genius. As he fluidly and confidently strides through the story, his tone is both perfectly modulated and carries at times a poetic leaning. He was great with accents, and when he voiced female characters, he wasn’t too breathy to be taken seriously.
This book is akin to two entwining rings. What happened in the past sets the stage for the future, and by the conclusion of the book, you can really see that Walter is comfortable in his ability to hook his audience into following the twin rings of plot that he opens up for his readers. I also liked that there was an appearance made by a real person in the story, though I am loathe to reveal who it is, as I don’t want to spoil the book. Walter took a great chance by creating such a large and sprawling story with so many different characters, and there was a trademark witticism that I detected in this tale, something that I have grown to expect from this author.
At its most simple, this is a story about secrets and lies—the ones we keep inside ourselves, and the ones that we share with others. It is redolent with denied passions and ambling dreams, all of which keep the characters firmly within each other’s story, yet also outside of it. I wouldn’t call it a melancholy tale, but there are hints of that emotion lying under the substructure of the book. While there was room for sadness, there was also a casual humor to the story that kept it from turning out as an overinflated and maudlin tragedy. Yes, there were tears, but they were bittersweet, and as all the stories melded, there was exponential gravitas that took me right to the edge without ever dropping me.
I will conclude by saying that this book is an excellent audio choice, and for those looking for a bit of nostalgia resting comfortably in the arms of modernity, this is the one to choose. I’m unsure if the book would have made the same impact on me in print, but I’ve heard others who have read the book say that it’s just as moving and meticulously plotted. Wise and wily, Walter has a fan in me, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.