Spokane native Jess Walter, author of The Financial Lives of the Poets, returns with Beautiful Ruins (Harper Collins, June 12), a novel that spans 50 years, two continents, and the lives of many flawed yet unforgettable characters. The story begins in 1962 and follows daydreaming Italian innkeeper Pasquale Tursi and his almost love affair with the stunning American actress Dee Moray who appeared one day, seemingly miraculously, at his tiny pensione (the Hotel Adequate View). She was working in Rome on the ill-fated film Cleopatra. Dee vanishes as quickly as she arrived, and the narrative picks up in present-day America as the elderly Pasquale searches for the actress on a whirlwind journey through Hollywood, Seattle, and Sandpoint, Idaho. The novel is humorous in ways both obvious (in botched English, Pasquale asks, “You eat antipasti and a soap, yes?”) and unexpected (Richard Burton’s—yes, the Richard Burton—heroics and constant search for Cognac). Amid the comedy, Walter waxes existential: “Some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.”
Updated June 7, 2012, to correct the title of Jess Walter’s novel, which was originally printed as The Financial Lives of Poets.