By Jess Walter
Harper, 352 pages
Beautiful Ruins is a riveting book about the connections between strangers, family members, and lovers. Jess Walter’s style of writing kept us hooked from the very beginning. He’s a bit of a tease, really. He shares just enough about one character to inspire curiosity, comes ridiculously close to revealing something important, and then drags us halfway across the world to introduce someone else. It’s impossible to look away.
Using a blend of letters, scripts, and straight-ahead narrative, the book follows a slew of people throughout their ridiculously imperfect and decisively human lives. None of the characters are saints. For instance, director Michael Dean is self-serving and inconsiderate. Actor Richard Burton is a self-destructive womanizer. Yet all of their choices are so genuine that we fell in love with them.
This is no fairy-tale romance about a man and a woman who give up everything to be together and live happily ever after as they ride off into the sunset. There is simply Pasquale Tursi and Dee Moray, two people who have feelings for one another and can’t act on them because of their responsibilities and decisions that they’ve made in the past. There is Pat Bender, who wants so desperately to be someone big and simply can’t get his career off the ground, and Claire Silver, who wants the job she has to be the dream job she’s always wanted and the boyfriend she’s with to be the man she’s always dreamt of. There is action and consequence, love and heartbreak, ambition and disappointment, but most of all there’s the strengthening of bonds previously taken for granted and the overwhelming feeling that this book has some real truth to it.
Jade Whitman is an Atlanta-based high schooler who interned at City Paper this summer.