Sunday, February 8, 2015

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

3 Stars
Beautiful Ruins was the third book in my library Winter Reading Challenge. I don't know wtf is going on, but I'm having a hell of a time finding a winner. Curse you, library!!!!

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Nah, not really. In all seriousness, if I weren't such a voracious reader I would have been able to find plenty of good books on the recommendation list . . . but since I've already read Eleanor & Park and The Lover's Dictionary and High Fidelity, etc., etc., etc. I was down to some slim pickings.

When I read the synopsis of (yet another) back and forth timeline story that begins with a chance encounter between an American actress and an Italian innkeeper back in the 60s which then bounces to present day and the arrival of an elderly Italian man at a movie studio, my mind automatically wanted this story . . .

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Things didn't work out quite as planned. Instead I ended up with not only the story of the innkeep and the actress, but also the story of the schmarmy movie producer and his assistant and the unemployed screenwriter and and a womanizing has-been musician and RICHARD BURTON?!?!?!?!?. I love ensemble casts, but they are VERY hard to write successfully. Beautiful Ruins had plenty of characters, but unfortunately (for me, at least) they all lacked depth (or I flat-out didn't give a rip about them).

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This is one of those books that I'm glad I'm reviewing, because in six months (or maybe even three since I'm an idiot) my memory will fail me and I'll see that beautiful cover and blurb and think "Oh, I should read that." It's that forgettable.

However, my problem with Beautiful Ruins may indeed be just that. MY PROBLEM. I encourage everyone to read Melki's review in order to get a second opinion on this one. The things that bothered me the most (the over-the-top movie pitch, the excerpt from the book which was never finished, the play, etc. all detracted from my enjoyment, but worked to enhance hers.

This is one instance where I think a film version might surpass the book. There weren't enough pages to invest me in all of the character's lives, but on screen it could be a completely different story. And Jess Walter definitely knows how to use pretty words . . .

"Weren't movies his generation's faith anyway - its true religion? Wasn't the theater our temple, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? A million schools taught ten million curricula, a million churches featured ten thousand sects with a billion sermons - but the same movie showed in every mall in the country. And we all saw it That summer, the one you'll never forget, every movie house beamed the same set of thematic and narrative images - the same Avatar, same Harry Potter, same Fast and the Furious, flickering pictures stitched in our minds that replaced our own memories, archetypal stories that became our shared history, that taught us what to expect from life, that defined our values. What was that but a religion?"

Oh, and because when you Google "Letters to Juliet .gifs" THIS pops up . . .

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You're welcome.

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