1. Archive

Review: 'Beautiful Ruins' takes us through time

Published Feb. 11, 2015

The Italian Riviera in the 1960s is the backdrop for this story. A breathless American actor graces the shores of a forgotten town. This and much more fill the pages of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, a novel about long-lost love, the corrupted world of movie stars and the ethereal quality of Italy.

The book begins with the tale of Pasquale, an Italian man born and raised in the small fishing village of Porto Vergogna. He owns a small hotel on the rocky shores and barely gets any patrons until one April morning when Dee Moray, an American actor with a stunning profile, happens to arrive by motorboat. Her unique looks aren't the only special quality about her. The actor is supposedly dying of stomach cancer and has come to escape the hectic pace of Rome, the famed city where Cleopatra is being filmed.

The novel continuously switches between Italy in the past (1960s) and present-day California. Cutting to Los Angeles around 2012, Walter goes on to introduce Michael Deane, a legendary movie producer with ample money and Botox injections to his name; Claire Silver, the adroit assistant of Deane; and Shane Wheeler, a rundown wanna-be with Hollywood aspirations. All the events mesh together around the life of Dee Moray, with the now aged Pasquale coming to Hollywood to settle old scores with Deane, who double-crossed Moray, and finding his elusive love from the '60s.

Filled with travel stories, beautifully described scenery and poignant scenes that are so sharp and descriptive they could cut the eye, this novel is a must-read. Although the chapters of the book containing the current-day dialogue are somewhat lackluster (i.e. the many "burnout characters" like Pat and Daryl got repetitive after a while), the descriptions of a deserted Italian shoreline and Florence after World War II make up for the modern garbage.

A character not to be missed is definitely Alvis Bender, the veteran who journeys to Pasquale's humble inn every year to continuously write and rewrite the first chapter of his war novel. Dragging the reader back to a World War II-ravaged Italy and a brief rendezvous with a brazen woman trying to avoid being raped, Bender describes his hardships in an almost desperate, Hemingway-like tone.

In fact, the whole novel is full of juxtaposing imagery (i.e. brutal scenes of the war contrasted with the glitzy world of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Rome).

Although the writing is sometimes confusing — it seems like 10 different stories are being spun and crazily intertwined simultaneously — the ending sews up loose ends, leaving no messy frays behind.

Overall, if one is enamored with the Mediterranean culture, 50-year-long romances that entertain the mind and senses, and the idea that even the most wayward people can tread the right path again, then add this book to your reading list now. Even better, the book is a quick read (337 pages) that won't take ages to get through.


  1. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor (far right) and her dog Alcaldesa joined students from Rampello K-8 Magnet School on a Nov. 14 walk across the school's newly-painted crosswalk, located at the intersection of Jefferson and Washington streets in downtown Tampa. CITY OF TAMPA  |  City of Tampa
    Hundreds of transportation and public safety advocates from across the country brought their ideas to Tampa for the Safe Routes to School National Conference.
  2. Sally Carlson of Seminole talks to her newly adopted 5-year-old miniature poodle held by Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center volunteer Mary Claire Streator. Potential owners browsed some of the 300 puppies that were put up for adoption Sunday in the gymnasium at All People's Life Center in Tampa. The designer-breed dogs had been rescued from Trish's All Breeds Pet Grooming in Tampa, where they were found sick and malnourished. Prospective owners were chosen out of thousands who applied during a lottery-type system and were able pick out a dog. LUIS SANTANA   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The animals were found in deplorable conditions at a grooming business in September. Their new owners had 15 minutes to make a selection.
  3. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The fire destroyed one business and damaged others inside a strip mall at the corner of 49th Street South and 1st Avenue South
  4. Chief Veterinarian Mallory Offner examines a female rescue puppy at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    With 250 of the pooches ready for adoption, each potential puppy parent has a 1-in-4 shot at getting picked in today’s drawing.
  5. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  6. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Pasco firefighters said the blaze broke out at a home in the 3000 block of Thistledown Lane.
  7. Four, six-week old puppies rescued from inadequate breeding conditions, wait to be checked by veterinary staff at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center. Over 300 small-breed dogs were rescued from a breeder on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    To qualify for a Hillsborough County lottery, apply in person Sunday and pass a background check.
  8. Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman was behind the push for a ban on teenage vaping. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
    The change makes it illegal to sell products to under-age customers and bans minors from possessing vaping paraphernalia.
  9. April Griffin
    The former Hillsborough County School Board member will compete against longtime agency employee Nancy Millan for the Constitutional office. The deadline for qualifying is June 12, 2020.
  10. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The first happened at about 4:30 p.m. in North Ybor and left one man wounded. At 5 p.m., a man was fatally shot in Sulphur Springs.