What I’m Reading: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

It was the cover of this book that grabbed my attention: brightly colored houses climbing the cliffs in a small town in the Cinque Terre. The cover photo is actually of Manarola and I’d seen it before. While the cover drew me in, the synopsis caught me: “A story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.” Who doesn’t like to read about people overcoming the obstacles in their lives.

This book is like a soap opera with characters and timelines intertwining often decades apart in places both spectacular and seedy. Of the main characters in this book, those only one I could really relate to was Pasquale. His actions through out the story are less calculated and selfish and he has an air of childish naivete about people in the beginning. As the story progresses he starts connecting the scattered pieces in his own life, and eventually his naivete turns into wisdom and follows through the choices he must make.

The story held my attention, but I admit I was kind of sad at the end of the book. At a culmination point where the characters should be having an A-Ha! moment, most of them are just kind of there, not aware of their current situation or ability to change it. This was more sad to me because I see this trait in some people I know. Effectively, no matter what path you are currently on, in any moment of that journey you have the ability to change course. As this story points out, sometimes people are able to make that decision early on and propel themselves into a fulfilling and beautiful life. Many, though, are unable to realize that they hold the power to do something so amazing, so they continue drifting along unsatisfied and unfulfilled for sometimes decades, and sometimes their entire lives. I think the key though is realizing your own strength.

Beyond the characters, I really enjoyed how detailed the scenes were. Specifically, the ones in Italy. I’ve always liked reading stories that are set in fantastical or foreign places because it makes me feel like a small part of me has been there and experienced it. I like visiting through an author’s words. Jess Walter’s words twisted into perfect backdrops for the story and his characters were personal and real. This book certainly isn’t a fairy tale, but it can show you a small glimpse of yourself and it lets you know that its alright to cling to your dreams because one day you might actually be on the path to realizing them.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here:

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