Every summer, the beach-read conundrum begins — whether to slog virtuously through Anna Karenina or Infinite Jest, or succumb to the kind of Fifty Shades of Tattooed Twilight genre pulp that practically shrieks to passersby, ”Why, yes, I did buy this on layover at ?the Miami-Dade airport!” Bless the latest from Jess Walter (The ?Financial Lives of the Poets) for offering a near-perfect rendezvous between those distant poles — a novel whose decade- and continent-?hopping ingenuity expertly scratches the seasonal itch for ?both literary depth and dazzle.
Beautiful Ruins opens less like a book than a Fellini-movie swoon: A gorgeous American starlet lands in a tiny ? village (really more of a rocky ? outcropping) on the ?Italian coast, circa 1962. What is she running from? And why is she sure that she’s dying? The answer, spooled out over nearly 350 pages, brings readers to modern-day ?Hollywood, with its harried assistants, silk-pajamaed producers, and mercenary reality-show pitches; the grody punk squats of London and Edinburgh; the rural outreaches of Idaho; and beyond.
That Walter is able to juggle ?his sprawling cast — including one ?legendary real-life movie star — ?and hopscotching timelines is an impressive novelistic trick. But it’s the beating heart in Ruins that makes it beautiful. A?