Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

We can't help wanting what we want... and what we want is usually a car wreck. That's the message in Jess Walter's latest novel, Beautiful Ruins. Multiple story threads come together over a span of more than half a century. I like this sort of narrative style, switching between time periods, places, and characters at different stages in their lives.

It starts in a tiny village in Cinque Terre, Italy, where a movie actress stays for a few days in 1962. Then in modern day USA, the aging Italian hotel keeper travels to Hollywood to find out what happened to the actress. In between, there are babies born out of wedlock, a soldier in World War II whose greatest trouble is with his feet, actor Richard Burton drinking nonstop, and plenty of betrayals. Also the bonds of love, friendship and family that sustain us. What a great book!

I listened to the Recorded Books audiobook [13 hours] narrated in a lively way by Edoardo Ballerini, who could perform both the fluent Italian and butchered Italian, as required by the text. There's also a bit with the author answering a few questions at the end of the recording, which is a nice addition. Walter talks about researching the book by spending time in Cinque Terre and I was envious. I spent a few days hiking that coast in 2007 and it is breathtaking.

The contradictions that are inherent in the choices we make are highlighted in Beautiful Ruins. (And in the title, come to think of it.) So now I've started listening to Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, which is nonfiction about the hidden forces that shape our decisions.

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