I can understand how this book would rank higher for other readers. And I understand that in many, many ways this is a beautifully crafted novel which opens up one layer at a time. That Jess Walters weaves the narration in such a way that the reader grows with the characters and sees the growth, the humanity, and the lives which are built out of the beautiful ruin of the choices we make.
That being said, this one didn’t light up my heart.
First, the basics: Beautiful Ruins is the story of Pasquale and Dee, and the week that their lives intersect in Italy in 1962 and again 50 years later. It is also the story of the lives of the people who bring them together and keep them apart. It’s a story which tries to tell us something meaningful, but doesn’t fully land on that idea until the last 30 or so pages of the novel. The book wanted to say something profound about love, hope, doing the right thing, and knowing our place in life – and most emphatically what wanting something more than what is our destiny can do to our psyches. These are big ideas and meaningful places to meditate.
But, nothing got deep into my soul with this one. I was entertained, and intrigued, but not particularly moved. And that’s what’s keeping the star count low. The other main problem for me was that the voices of the characters blended too easily in my mind. Having read Where’d You Go, Bernadette this year and having those voices be so crisp and clean I felt this novel didn’t reach the same level.
Separately, but also probably part of my reaction to the book was that I went in knowing that it is being adapted into a movie. I wish I didn’t know that before I read it because I thought about who would be cast to play the famous parts while reading.