This is not a book review. I really don’t enjoy writing those—I’d prefer to take a glimpse at the experience of reading journey (the highlights). I don’t want to talk plot or give anything away. I can see myself in the future doing a close reading/textual breakdown on some aspect of “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter, but for now all I can really say is: I was wrong.
I braced myself to feel disappointment with the book. I was a tentative possible reader. When I first read the synopsis my readerly voice said “ugh, too sprawling over time and space, no way this works, looks overly sentimental and sappy, no way will I like this, and I’ll just feel desolate over not enjoying the reading experience.” Then there was the hype and buzz that I felt pressing down on me, there was too much “this book is so good,” it just didn’t feel like the book could begin to live up to all the hubbub. It took me weeks to decide if I wanted to read it.
Even once I did I still was leery, I stared at it on my shelf, and that voice just kept saying “it can’t work, it’s not overly long, and it’s such a big sounding plot.” I just knew the disappointment would come.
My goodness was I wrong I knew I was wrong by page 5. In five pages enchantment happened.
By page 200 I realized everything I feared I would not like about “Beautiful Ruins” I loved. Jess Walter does a masterful job of weaving the characters together. The novel does not feel burdened by time or space because of how the narrative is structured and paced. It’s truly a thing of beauty. I was never rushing ahead of what was happening, Walter always kept me in that moment being told, my mind did not look to fly to where it all could possibly be headed, I felt such trust in Walter, his prose (the language!), and where he was heading.
The strength of the characters that he writes is part of the reason for this. The characters were sharp and vivid, so taken in the moments they were in on the page that it felt like they were driving the narrative—it isn’t the plot that dictates, but the characters and their stories. To me this is something very special that I wish I found more of.
“Beautiful Ruins” delivers that good book glow.
Read it. Experience it for yourself. Maybe have some wine while you do.