The 1963 filming of Cleopatra, which starred Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, is the backdrop of Jess Walter’s affecting novel, Beautiful Ruins. Michael Deane, a newbie in the business, is sent to Italy to save the film. The film’s budget has spiraled while its stars have sparked a tumultuous affair though both are locked in respective marriages. Dee Moray, a young actress cast as Cleopatra’s lady in waiting, got herself romantically entangled with Burton thus Deane plotted her departure and sent her to a remote Italian coastal village. There Dee met Pasquale, a young dreamer running his little hotel, and their meeting set life-changing courses of events that spanned in the next five decades.
Beautiful Ruins is an absorbing, quite moving, and heartwarming piece of literature. I had reservations when I picked my copy from a bargain bin in Fully Booked. The sunny cover art, its Hollywood setting, and smoothly written introductory chapters indicate that this may be something for chicks, a genre that is just not for me.
But Beautiful Ruins is specked with clever twists somehow reminiscent of tightly constructed detective stories. All over the novel, gently phrased lines and wise perspectives cause the reader to pause, think and step back a bit as the thoughts articulated were clearly drawn from real life experiences that are not only by the author’s but also our own. Beautiful Ruins reminds that while breakups and strains in human relationships are inevitable during our youth, the wisdom of age entrusts us with the ability to make reconciliations and spur positive endings.