Book Club Reflection: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

10 Dec

My book club met to discuss Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter pretty soon after I finished reading it. It feels like ages since this happened because of my NaNoWriMo slow down so I’m glad I can finally tell you about it.

I was the only person in the group who hadn’t seen Cleopatra. I’m not sure I want to see it now that I know more about it and understand that its popularity was due to the romance between the leads. It sounds like the movie itself wasn’t that great.

Many felt Walter’s description of Italy brought the place to life. I loved the descriptions of Pasquale’s home and family. It was very vivid and easy to envision.

Most of us didn’t like Pat and we felt that his section was a bit ‘too much’ and hard to believe. He was an addict like his father. He was also dramatic and a good actor like his father. He wasn’t much like Alvis, his adopted father, except toward the end when he became very domesticated. We thought this might be a way of dealing with his addictions. It was hard reading about Dee and how she didn’t tell him for so long. She never resolved how she felt about Dick and we think she was avoiding him coming back into her life. She was trying to escape from Dick. And it got harder and harder to tell Pat after time went by until it was forced on her.

We all felt Pasquale was the most likable male character in the story. He was also the only one who didn’t want to be an artist, but he was still a dreamer, trying to make a wonderful hotel. He never seemed young to us, likely a case of an ‘old soul.’ He also wasn’t described much physically except for his eyes.

Within the book, Walter has a lot of different stories, like Alvis Bender’s first chapter and Shane’s pitch. When each plotline started, it was like getting pitched a new script because they seemed so separate at first. It took Walter 15 years to finish this book and we could see why.

One of the memorable lines from the book was, “People want what they want.” We felt that the motivator was present throughout most of the book. These characters hurt others in pursuit of getting whatever it was that they wanted. The town Pasquale lives in translates to ‘Port of Shame’ and each character seems to air their shame during the story. Michael Dean went even further than that and took someone else’s shame (Dick and Liz) and turned it into a spectacle for everyone to ogle.

We felt that almost every character could be described as their own Beautiful Ruin. Most of them are striving for beauty and art in their lives. A ruin survives time, but it’s not intact and most of these characters have to go through trouble to get through their struggles. The gun bunker and the port town were physical examples of beautiful ruins. We thought the moment with Dee and Pasquale in the bunker was one of the sweetest moments in the book.

Most of us were not fans of the ending. The story wrapped up too quickly and it felt like everything worked out too well, almost like a fairy tale. We were also left a bit confused about what happened between Pasquale and Dee. It felt like a romance, but not much romantic happened. And we were confused about how she managed to travel the way she did if she was so weak. It felt a little magical.

I missed the November meeting because I was out of town and we’ll skip December because of the holidays so I’ll be back with this group in January to discuss Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’m already loving the book.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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