Love, Frustration, and Patience of Human Heart in Beautiful Ruins Novel

The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his  funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet: the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 . . . and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later, Beautiful Ruins

The literary world is full of books that grab the reader at the beginning, but then wind down toward a predictable, inconclusive or just plain blah finish (even the great "Huckleberry Finn" peaks early). "Beautiful Ruins" is one of those rare books that becomes more intense as it pulls you toward its moving, emotional and completely satisfying finale. In the first half, Walter introduces multiple narratives, plot threads and writing styles.

The novel begins in the past, in the year 1962, in the tiny village of Porto Vergogra, Italy, where Dee Moray is brought to the failing hotel owned by Pasquale Tursi. Dee, an actress on the set of the film "Cleopatra", thinks she is dying of stomach cancer. Just one look at this arresting American beauty and Pasquale, the inn-keeper is hooked for life. What Pasquale does not realize is that Dee is being set up by the swarthy Hollywood publicist Michael Deane and inadvertently the famous movie actor Richard Burton, who is filming Cleopatra. 50 years later, Pasquale comes to America in the hopes of finding this bewitching woman he knew as a young man. He has kept the business card of Michael Deane, who is now a famous producer and calls in his marker.

In the present day Hollywood we learn what has happened to Michael Deane, the publicist who thinks he has the gift of knowing what his clients want, even if they won't admit to it. He has an assistant Claire Silver, who is looking for a sign that she is in the right business and we are introduced to an aspiring screen-writer Shane Wheeler, who shows up at Michael Dean's office to pitch a movie. This unlikely group, for different reasons, set out on a roller-coaster of a road trip, where the past and present collide. Jess Walter weaves many elements in this unique story, fleshing out these characters rather complicated histories, by using flashbacks, a movie pitch and at one point an original play.

The novel is about a secret, covered up by the studio in a time when the internet did not exist and gossip and rumour could be controlled - or at least manipulated. It is about how that secret affected the characters as they lived their lives, of doing the right thing, and of how Hollywood works, both now and then.

The characters are all flesh and blood and the stories show the good and bad side of humanity. Even though it doesn't shrink back from telling about the bad, the book has a positive outlook. A funny, romantic and often sweet novel, it is a charming and enjoyable read.