Beautiful Ruins could not be a more apt title for this book, because that is exactly what it is: the stories of the beautiful ruins of the characters' lives. The plot revolves around three people: Dee Moray, Pasquale Tursi, and Michael Deane. Dee first appears as a dying actress in the tiny Italian fishing town of Portovergona, where Pasquale is attempting to build a beach and a cliffside tennis court to draw American tourists to his tiny business, the Hotel Adequate View. Michael Deane is the man who sent her there. The story takes place in several different forms. There is a "past" timeline, set over the course of a few days in the sixties, which is where the original action occurs; this timeline pops up every other chapter. The chapter which do not take place in the sixties take place in a time known as "recently," with some additional characters (Michael Deane's much-aggrieved assistant, Claire Silvers, and the would-be script writer Shane Wheeler), or in other portions of the past. There are also chapters out of books mentioned in the main course of the story, as well as a play excerpt and Shane's movie pitch. It may seem disjointed, at first, but it all comes together beautifully (the theme word of this review, evidently) to show what each of the characters considers important, and what has shaped them into who they are.
The writing in this book was stunning. It was, quite honestly, pure poetry. There were times that it could have tended to be a bit "tell"-y, but Walter's narrative voice worked all of the description and action into a tight-woven tapestry that left a vivid picture of the book's events planted firmly in my head. The language struggle is artfully and accurately portrayed--the lack of knowledge, the inability to convey the depth of emotion one desires with an inadequate vocabulary, the span of what, indeed, can be lost in translation. The last chapter was almost complete exposition, and I normally hate that, but again, Walter paced it in a voice that left me in tears from the wealth of built-up emotion in this book and all of its beautifully ruined characters. All of them are seriously flawed in some way, and none of them end up where they thought they would, but they all are charming and engaging, even the slimiest of them. Walter ties up every loose end, not leaving you hanging about anyone, and weaves all of that into the sense of a larger story that all of us are involved in.
While words are easy to find when describing something you dislike, writing about something you love is typically challenging. That's my problem in this review. I loved Beautiful Ruins. That's really all there is to it.