, , , , , ,

Time to hug your library shelves packed with physical books. 

San Antonio, Texas my be slightly beyond my library system’s circulation, but I can still be annoyed. They score no high fives for being the biggest bummer of the day. This new “library” doesn’t offer any print books. None. Not one copy of Anne of Green Gables or Judy Blume. No racks of R.L. Stine or tempting horror section filled with dark covers just waiting to eat your sleep. It seems to me there’s room for both soulless digital files and the printed page. I’m hoping residents will rebel, fill the place with print books like in the closing scene of Real Genius when they fill the building with popcorn. Surely you can’t get in trouble for filling a library with actual books.

Real Genius popcorn scene

Real Genius popcorn scene

For the love of blue waters and warmer places, take a look below. The cover for Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins sold me at first sight. It looks like a postcard before Instagram stamped a sameness on oldish hues.

Beautiful Ruin by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruin by Jess Walter

Life is what brought Pasquale Tursi home from Florence to his small, quiet island village with its fishermen, stone buildings and his inherited hotel, The Hotel Adequate View. Like his late father, he dreams of making the island a premier tourist destination for rich Americans. He even plans to build out a beach and carve a tennis court on the top of a rocky cliff. When Dee Moray arrives, a beautiful, sick Hollywood star-in-the-making, his vision for the future seems not so far-fetched.

Things aren’t always what they seem. I began this novel excited for the foreign setting, thinking this would be a juicy story made of only the good stuff you’d squeeze on a postcard and send contrasted with the lows on the postcard you don’t send. Though it does have scandal and some soap opera-ish scenes, this is not that book.

Moray arrives and Pasquale is smitten despite the language barrier and indication that she’s gravely ill. Then we hop in a time machine to present day Hollywood as an old man named Pasquale arrives at the office of some hot shot producer long past his hey day, looking for the actress he loved long ago, bringing the past to the present in hopes the two will tell a different story all these years later.

It’s not clear to me why this is labeled a mystery – it has the same dramatic questions as most fiction: What happens? In this case: What happened? We chip away at the brief time Pasquale and Dee Moray had together by mining the present between glimpses of the past. We jump around in time, from Pasquale’s youth and his friendship with an American WWII vet trying to write his war novel.

Use ‘beautiful’ to describe a sandwich and the word means nothing. Since the war, there is no more room for inflated language. Words and feelings are smaller now – clear and precise. Humble like dreams.

The main thing I disliked was the use of real people as characters. When old movie stars show up in fiction, in this case Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, it usually takes me out of the story’s world. There are exceptions, like Ragtime, but this isn’t one of them.

It’s easy to see why Beautiful Ruins is popular. It felt like a book I’d find at a stranger’s house, one I wouldn’t normally read. But the highs and lows, and regular jumping around means you don’t have to spend too much time with the unlikable characters. The writing and character reflections compel you to look inward on past regrets and hard choices and how they’ve shaped your life.

I liked the story overall and the structure emphasizes that the briefest love stories can be the most complex, impossible to convey in a linear way.