Sunday Salon Jan. 18, 2014
Reading this week: “Beautiful Ruins,” by Jess Walter for next week’s book club meeting. So glad my friend Nan picked this book, so
that I, in turn, picked it off the shelf where it’s been for a year. Now
Both Beautiful and full of ruin, Beautiful Ruins is a modern-day
tapestry woven with threads of Silver screen and Golden oldies, disappointment
and desire, self-belittling and grandiose aspirations, nostalgia and harsh
Warp (time warp too) is 1962, in
the tiny fishing village of Porto Vergogna, Italy, – a crack in a rock-cliff
coast –where Pasquale Tursi dreams Americans will discover his Hotel Adequate
View. One day, one does – the somewhat beautiful, talented, but ailing, Dee
Moray arrives for R & R.
Weft is modern-day Hollywood, in
the production studio of the famous but fading Michael Deane, author of The
Deane’s Way: How I Pitched Modern Hollywood to America and How You Can Pitch
Success Into Your Life Too.
The two get threaded together when
Pasquale comes in search of Moray around a half century after she leaves his
hotel – starting at the best clue he has – Michael Deane’s studio. Flashes back
from the has-been producer to the days when he was called in to clean up the
messes during the production of the 1962 epic Cleopatra with its cast of thousands and its dazzling coupled
stars, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Those were the days! Taylor and Burton have roles in Walter's book as
But most of the vivid characters that color the fabric are a collection
of wannabees and has-beens; starry-eyed romantics and bleary-eyed cynics.
A few examples:
· Deane studio development assistant Claire Silver who is
considering dumping her not-so-dreamy dream job and her strip-bar, porn consuming boyfriend
(also not dreamy).
Shane Wheeler, who, a few years after getting
his MFA has already ditched the idea of writing fiction after major rejections
and turned instead to Hollywood to pitch a movie.
Aging singer/songwriter/comedian Pat Bender who
has failed more than he’s succeeded in his blended professions but is given
another chance when he’s discovered by a kid half his age who’s willing to
promote him for a UK tour, including a stop at Edinburgh’s Fringe
From earlier times
Self-described “Failed writer but successful drunk” who, prior to Moray
is the only noteworthy visitor to Hotel Adequate View. After seven years of
drinking/writing, he completes a chapter.
And finally the could-have-been Dee Moray, who
make such an impression on Pasquale that she changed the course of his life.
For all Walter's characters, life
gets complicated by sex; for several, also by booze.
Walter, nevertheless, has a gentle humorous
way with both those on the way up and those past peak --- some of whom, as in
the case of the appropriately named Benders, are both. What makes Beautiful Ruins (an
almost-oxymoronic title) so amusing is that the author seems entertained and
intrigued by all – whether they are in Hollywood or some tiny out the way,
never-heard-of before nook of the world.
As a result, I am too.