Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What a Good Book Does

Jess Walter’s new novel, Beautiful Ruins, begins on the banks of a sleepy Italian town once named for its proliferation of prostitutes, while a young man recently returned home moves sand around, trying to make a beach to attract American tourists to his family’s hotel.

This man, Pasquale, has illusions of grandeur, which endears and endangers him equally, and each character in Walter’s book seems to have their own vision of reality which may or may not align with actual life. As though each of us constructs realities which become admirable and yet, impossible. Beautiful ruins. But in this novel, the title works on many levels.

The story moves back and forth in time, from Hollywood of the 1960s and the isolated Italian village where news of movie stars seeps in, to current day, when modern notions of celebrity and success can dilute even the purest of artistic sensibilities.

Walter’s style is vivid and Technicolor, each scene painted with practiced hands. There are moments of wisdom, moments of great feeling. A good book makes you stop and close your eyes, savoring description. A good book will cause you to marvel at its construction, at each diligently crafted piece and the way they fit together. A good book will make you say “I wish I wrote that” many, many times. And a good book will keep you awake after you finish, thinking about the many threads of its tapestry, synapses in your brain firing and refiring. A good book makes you feel like you may not write anything for a while. I loved Beautiful Ruins. You can buy it here. And tonight, I’m going to hear Jess Walters talk about it here. A few tickets still available, I believe.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka