Book Review: Beautiful Ruins

New experiment: Book Reviews via Goodreads. While I’ve been using Goodreads intermittently for a while, I’ve been trying recently to be more faithful (and accurate) at logging my reading fits and frenzies. And they have this neat little app that allows my book reviews to post automatically to my blog. Woah. Sweet. Let’s try it!

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Beautiful Ruins last year as part of a workshop at a Writers’ Conference I was attending; totally took me beyond my usual reading bubble! It was, looking back, a great read. At the time, It took me a while to get into it, but what else would you expect when getting out of your well-worn reading ruts? It didn’t take long for it to grab me and not let go.

Jess Walter must have had timelines, reminders and flashing neon notes plastering every available space in his house while writing this book. His story spans the globe and several generations, weaving back and forth, in and out of time and space. Not only does he do it well, making all of his names and places memorable and compelling, he eventually brings all his threads together into one gorgeous tapestry.

It has been a while since my read-through, but Beautiful Ruins rattles around in my memory as clearly as if I had just finished it. Written about many things I cared not a whit about, the sweeping narrative captured my heart with a nostalgic style that swept me away. I could smell the sea and longed to meet Pasquale and the quirky cast of his Italian village. I felt like (despite my objections) I was an insider in the loathsome Hollywood scene. I loved characters, hated characters, and had strong feelings about the plotline as it was unfolding. And of course, I was surprised. Jess Walter pulled it all off without a single hole that I noticed, which is no small feat for a novel of this scope. He broke all the rules and did it spectacularly.

I gave it 4 stars, back then. Honestly, I think I was just being conservative, leaving some room for even more amazing novels. I may have also been swayed by the group of aspiring novelists I discussed it with. There was definitely a mixed bag of reviews in that room, which surprised me. Rather vehement disdain in the one camp, and cheery ovations in the other. The even (and shockingly polar) split, after much deliberation, seemed to boil down to those who hated the time warps and teleportation style of writing, jumping hither and thither, and those who rode the beast with their arms in the air screaming.

I wonder now if it had to do with those rules I mentioned. Knowing the rules makes it hard to overlook their breaking, and that tornadic whirlwind was not friendly to the linear writing rules. Possibly it was those of us in the crowd that were unaware of these conventions that enjoyed their disregard. Possibly not.

Whatever the reasons, I, for one, was taken with the daring Beautiful Ruins. I was awed by the skill required to write so artfully, and to pull off such impressive feats of organization. I enjoyed every minute of the story. And I was inspired to keep the rules where they belong: in the suggestion box.

View all my reviews

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