Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter

I am reposting this 2014 review because the kindle version is on sale for $1.99 today only as one of the kindle deals of the day. There are a number of books on sale today that are worth looking at.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess WalterSummary: A beautifully written love story(ies) that spans 50 years.  Refreshingly, it is more focused on adult commitment than personal fulfillment.

Beautiful Ruins has had a lot of hype. It was nominated for two Audie Awards in 2013, it was NPR’s Fresh Air’s books of the Year, and Esquire Book of the Year, and a New York Times #1 Best Seller.

I alternated between Kindle and Audiobook (with more time in the audiobook.) Edoardo Ballerini was a perfect narrator.  His Italian sounded perfect (although I have zero ability to really evaluate it.)

Beautiful Ruins weaves together a number of stories. It starts with a young Italian inn owner in 1962 and a mysterious American actress that comes to his out of the way inn as a guest. It moves to a modern story of a movie producer and his assistant. It mixes in a number of storylines from 1962, current time and in between.

I tend to like interwoven storylines, and this was executed perfectly. There is a long epilogue at the end that wraps of ALL of the loose ends (and there are a lot of loose ends to wrap up.) I appreciated the ending, but it was not necessarily needed for all of the storylines. But the focus of the book required it. Part of the focus is on how one story affects other stories. And so the careful attention to how each of the stories worked out (or did not) continued that focus.

There is a theme of choosing what story to live (similar to Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.) But while that could go wildly wrong with many other authors, it also reminded me of the movie Once (which I love). Many who did not like the movie Once did not like the end result. The characters from Once did not choose the most romantic ending, they chose the one that fulfilled their prior commitments. And for the most part (but not all) that is what happened in Beautiful Ruins.

Part of the twist of this book is that it uses the real Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and the filming of Cleopatra as a plot device and characters in the book. Handled badly, that could have been a problem, but in reality they provided interest, without detracting from the story.

Not all of the characters were lovable, but enough of them were. That is the way of real life. Not everyone does what they should or has your best interest at heart. Some are wrapped up in their own issues and addictions. Some are able to overcome their issues and addictions to actually love you as you need. Some people are made better by love, some are not.

In some ways this is just a love story. It is the story of how people fall in love and choose to live their lives. But there is depth to the stories that really shows that love is not about personal fulfillment as much as commitment. And that is not usually the way that love stories work out in our modern self-obsessed world. So I want to celebrate a book that tell a true story of love as commitment instead of love as fulfillment.

The Kindle version is only $1.99 at posting (it was $3.99 when I picked it up).  And the companion audiobook is only $4.99 with purchase of the kindle book. I think the audio version is worth picking up if you like audiobooks. It is very well done. But the print version is good on its own as well.

Beautiful Ruins Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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