This week I read Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. I bought it on our Great Indie Bookstore Tour, but I'm just now getting around to reading it!
[Dick} Cavett's four great interviews with Richard Burton were done in 1980...Burton, fifty-four at the time, and already a beautiful ruin, was mesmerizing.
-"Talk Story" by Louis Menand, The New Yorker, November 22, 2010
This book is beautifully written, and I couldn't put it down. There are several story lines going on at once, but they all have a connection to the disastrous filming of 1962's Cleopatra in Italy starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Burton and Taylor fell in love on the set and began a torrid affair, destroying both of their marriages. Taylor had recently broken-up the marriage of Eddie Fisher and America's Sweetheart, Debbie Reynolds.
The story's main character is Pasquale Tursi, the owner of a tiny hotel on in an isolated village on the Italian coast. The only access to Porto Vergogna is by boat which limits the village's commerce greatly. Pasquale's dream is to fill his hotel full of Americans, but unfortunately the inn's only American visitor is a writer names Alvis Bender who returns year after year to work on his book. One day, an American starlet working on the film Cleopatra appears on his dock to rest at his hotel. Sadly, she is ill, and Pasquale suspects that she is meant to be at one of the other more populated beach communities in the Cinque Terre.
In the present, Pasquale travels to Los Angeles to find a production assistant (now a major Hollywood producer) who worked on the film in the hopes of finding Dee Moray, the American starlet. This is where the interweaving of the book's dozen or so characters begins. Stories about characters as disparate as a Donner party hero, a World War II German artist, a nineties grunge band front man, a disillusioned Hollywood production assistant, a young angst-ridden writer, and even Richard Burton coalesce into a wonderful story full of passion for life. The big epiphany discovered by Michael Deane, Hollywood Producer extraordinaire, and explained is his memoir is:
"We want what we want."
These wants propel us into making choices that sometimes work out well for us, and sometimes end in tragedy. But every once in a while, the true heroes choose to do the right thing rather than what they want, and that kind of self-sacrifice can bring even more joy than could ever be imagined.
What have you been reading this week?
This is a linky!