Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Audible's Best Book of 2012
Audie Award Nominee, Fiction and Best Solo Narration, 2013
Booklist Editors' Choice - Best Fiction Books: 2012
Library Journal Best Books: 2012
New York Times Notable Books - Fiction and Poetry: 2012

Beautiful Ruins audio book by Jess Walter, performed by Edoardo Ballerini

The story begins in 1962 Italy, in Porto Vorgogna.  Sitting on a rocky terrain, only accessible by boat, the tiny village houses a handful of sardine and anchovy fisherman and a hotel.  Pasquale Tursi seems stuck in his life caring for his ailing mother and aging aunt.  When a beautiful actress from the movie set of Cleopatra arrives under curious circumstances, Pasquale's life is changed forever. 

Bit by bit we are introduced to new characters so full of rich detail they could easily be the people you pass by every day.  There's Shane, a guy in his late twenties who still expects things to come easily, and to be a success at everything just because he tried.  Pat is self-destructive, constantly abusing drugs and alcohol, disappointing his mother and himself.  Although lacking in any self-esteem, we know he adores his mother and wants her to be happy.  We also meet Michael Dean, a guy who failed at everything except making money in movies and reality TV.  Richard Burton makes an appearance as a lovable guy, yet so dependent on alcohol that he seems to miss everything going on around him.  My favorite, Alvis Bender survived World War II only to wonder why he did.

Despite being so flawed, Jess Walter's characters are real and likable. Their stories weave and twist around each other and ultimately meet, and then culminate in an ending that is full of love and hope. The tone is upbeat and the Walter's writing style engages the reader from the first chapter.

Edoardo Ballerini's performance is mesmerizing.  In his interpretation of the author's writing style he is able to give each character a distinct voice.  His ability to speak fluent Italian, speak it with a bad American accent, and everything in between is the cherry on top.

Beautiful Ruins can be found in VBPLs online catalog in book format as well as audio cd.  If you like this title in either format, you might want to try The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson.  Both share exotic foreign backdrops, and driven characters affected by Hollywood glamor and scandal.

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