Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

beautiful ruinsI miss Italy.

Like, I-think-about-it-every-single-day-dream-about-it-talk-about-it-constantly miss it.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I left Perugia behind and bid a dopo to Roma almost eighteen months ago. So much has changed, and not just how horrendous il mio italiano has gotten either, real life caught up with me when I landed in the U.S. and it hasn’t stopped chasing me forward since. So, when I see a book that has to do with Italy, I can’t resist the sway that intoxicating country still holds over me, and I read it.

That, coupled with the glowing reviews of Beautiful Ruins, meant there was never any question in my mind about whether or not I was going to pick it up. It was only ever a matter of when.

What I liked about this book is that it’s about living in the past, living in your dreams, living pretty much anywhere but the present, and what happens when the present finally finds you and interferes with your plans. Jess Walter weaves together the story lines of several characters you would never imagine could have anything to do with each other, and he does it so effortlessly that I found myself constantly delighted by the little twists and turns.

Oh, the drunk isn’t a bad guy after all! That’s refreshing! Oh, but that son of hers… he’s not at all what he appears, is he? And what about Pasquale? What will become of Pasquale? 

Thoughts like those ran through my mind up until I turned the final pages.

“I know I felt that way. For years. It was as if I was a character in a movie and the real action was about to start at any minute. But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.”

Who hasn’t felt like that at some point? But I’ll admit, the part I loved best about this book was how honestly it portrayed Italy and Italian culture. I felt like I was stepping back onto that soil, though most of the Italian plot plays out far from Perugia’s hilly landscape. For me, this was like stepping back into one of my dreams. But, as the book cautions, too much dreaming can be detrimental to living.

“This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life.”

Well spoken, if you ask me.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars 

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