“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter (2912) – 352 pages
“Beautiful Ruins” is the perfect example of a novel which is climbing up the best seller lists, but which as a literary work of fiction is laughably bad.
I started reading “Beautiful Ruins”, because after reading several very positive reviews, I figured this might be one of those rare novels that make the best seller lists yet still have some literary quality. Such was not the case.
“Beautiful Ruins” begins with the arrival by boat of the beautiful but dying young American actress Dee Moray to the tiny Italian seacoast village of Porto Vergogna. There we meet the cute, quirky, but lovable stock Italians who live in this tiny village (Italy ought to sue). Our actress stays at the Adequate View inn which is run by the cute but lovable young Italian man Pasquale Tursi. He is happy to have the American actress staying there, since the only other American who has stayed at the inn is the handsome but alcoholic Hemingway-esque author Alvis Bender who comes each year to write his war novel (Has there ever been a writer in a bad novel who was not Hemingway-esque?). Due to his alcoholism and his war memories which have scarred him, Bender has only completed one chapter of his novel.
“Beautiful Ruins” let’s us read that one chapter of Bender’s war novel. Frankly, this war story is so trite and hackneyed; if I were the author I would have quit writing it long before I reached the end of the first chapter.
The year is 1962, and the actress Dee Moray is in Italy to act in a small role in the movie ‘Cleopatra’ which is filming there with its major actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Thus we meet the conniving double-dealing movie producer Michael Deane. Soon we are flashing forward to modern-day Hollywood so we can admire the entire span of Michael Deane’s career from producing bad movies like ‘Cleopatra’ to producing bad TV reality shows. So of course, “Beautiful Ruins” gives us a chapter from Michael Deane’s autobiography which is about as awe-inspiring as his pathetic career.
Since we are now in Hollywood, “Beautiful Ruins” subjects us to a movie ‘treatment’ called “Donner” about the ill-fated frontier Donner party. I suppose this represents all the bad scripts and treatments that are floating around Hollywood, and in that sense it succeeds.
Later we again skip forward to nearly the present to meet Dee Moray’s son, Pat Bender, who is a tortured, sensitive rebellious rock musician who abuses drugs and alcohol and who is hugely attractive to women.
“Beautiful Ruins” quotes the dumb-ass sappy lyrics to his best and most famous song, ‘Lydia’, which is about the woman he truly loves while he is screwing all these other sluts. Later his life is turned into a dumb-ass play ‘Front Man’ of which, luckily for us readers, only parts of acts I and III are in “Beautiful Ruins”.
So “Beautiful Ruins” is a bunch of stereotypes on top of a pile of clichés. While reading, I kept a running count of all the original thoughts and authentic feelings that are contained in “Beautiful Ruins”. The final count was zero.