“Beautiful Ruins” is Jess Walter’s sixth novel which is rumored to have taken fifteen years to write. There is talk that Jess Walter has been commissioned to write the screenplay for a future film of his story. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take fifteen years for the screenplay to materialize.
The cover of the book is enough to draw you in. It depicts the fictitious town of Porto Vergogna high on a cliff overlooking the Italian seacoast. It is on this cliff where Pasquale Tursi is trying to make a go of his inn which is called the “Hotel Adequate View.” The opening paragraphs relate the arrival by boat of a 22-year-old starlet, Dee Moray, to the inn where she plans to rest after doing her part in the movie “Cleopatra” which stunned the world that year, 1962-63.
Pasquale is totally entranced with the actress. It is love at first sight. He soon learns that Dee Moray is dying of stomach cancer. What he does not know is that this is a cover-up, even to the actress. She is actually pregnant and her studio, for several reasons, does not want this fact to reach the public’s ear. Michael Deane, a minor studio executive at the time, is charged with keeping Dee out of sight.
Several minor characters enter the picture at the hotel, and again fifty years later when the setting changes to Hollywood, California. The reader has to wonder what the purpose of these many characters is. What do they have to do with the original story? They do give us insight, however, into the sleazy conduct of Hollywood moguls as well as the writers, actors and minions behind the scenes.
Pasquale has never forgotten his long-lost love. His appearance in Hollywood to search for her fifty years later sets off another sequence of events tying together many loose ends in the story.
After several hints to the truth, the reader learns as the story unfolds that Richard Burton fathered Dee Moray’s child, who was given the name Pat after the innkeeper Pasquale who befriended Dee during those trying days of her youth. Richard Burton at the time was involved in a tempestuous relationship with his co-star Elizabeth Taylor. For financial reasons, the studio did not want anything like a side affair to take away from the publicity the film received because of the love affair between Dick and Liz.
The scenes where Richard Burton showed up at the Hotel Adequate View are some of the more interesting parts of the story. One has to wonder whether it occurred to Jess Walter that Burton’s family might want to sue him for his portrayal of the actor, although his escapades of drinking and carousing were never a secret to the general public.
We have to surmise that the title “Beautiful Ruins” refers not only to the landscape along the Italian seacoast, but also to the lives of the real and fictitious characters that Jess Walter brings to life in this outstanding tale.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (2012)