Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins

A favorable review today in The New York Times said Jess Walter’s new book is like a film script, but to my way of thinking Walter is more like a one-man performance artist, who suddenly pulls all kinds of horns, drums, bells and other props out of his bottomless pockets to illustrate a point, to make us laugh, to break into our attention and to declare: “are we entirely mad?” His work is brilliantly interpreted and performed by Edoardo Ballerini on audio, and to hear the thick and heavy tones of Richard Burton declaiming in a small outboard floating off the coast of Italy is to feel a stab of remembered joy.

Fifteen years from conception to production, this is Walter at his crazy, mad, funny, piercing best, for he skewers us and our lives by reflecting popular culture back at ourselves, but showers us with tender mercies at the end. The novel covers a time frame from the early sixties through at least the last decade, and covers at least as many personalities as years. But what a wild and happy party it is, with all the usual suspects: love, greed, envy, pride, lust, infidelity…and, I’ll say it again, finally love. “It’s a love story,” we hear as Hollywood producer Michael Deane pitches his latest to the studio executives at the end of the book. And I guess it always is, in the end, for that is all that really matters.

Take this trip, and if you have eschewed listening on audio for whatever reason, throw aside your inhibitions and do yourself a favor. This is performance art, and may be listened to with great effect. We have a nubile Hollywood actress with a bit part in an Elizabeth Taylor film, a Hollywood producer, a small Italian coastal village, a young man pitching a story…you get the idea. There is lots going on but it always with the greatest clarity that we can see that life ”isn’t always easy” and that we usually find our hapless ways despite, or perhaps because of, our questionable choices.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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