But let me take a step back to indulge in a personal tangent to explain my attraction to the cover: I've always been kind of subconsciously obsessed with Italy. I had a ton of Italian classmates growing up, and they were always having big, fun family get-togethers with delicious food. My (small) town even had an annual summer Italian festival with red, white, and green fireworks! I distinctly remember doing a "what's your nationalities?" project –and being one of the only kids in the class who wasn't even an ounce Italian! Third grade is so unfair.
Flash forward 15 or so years (note: each of those years was also unfair ;). My boyfriend, Stephen, is Italian and went to Italy five or so years ago with his family. He still regularly raves about the Amalfi Coast! So, I figured if a book took me there for a while, I wouldn't be mad.
|Here's a newly-framed map hanging in our apartment to prove my Italy adoration.|
|My favorite passage from that scene|
|It was very pleasant to read next to Lake Mendota with an Oberon|
I just didn't feel that connected with any of the cast in Beautiful Ruins. Probably because there were so many, in so many places, over so many time periods, telling their stories in so many ways. It took Walters 15 years to write this book (15 years!), so I can understand how he wanted to experiment with different story-telling methods over that time. (For comparison, his The Financial Life of Poets took him ~10 months.)
I felt naturally more interested in some character than others (thought Claire deserved more time, thought Alvis had too much) - so when I got halfway through and we were being introduced to another person and setting (Struggling musician slash recovering addict? We're going to Seattle and then the UK?) I just felt a little jostled.
Helen Schulman in this New York Times Book Review raves about the book, calling it a "high-wire feat of bravura storytelling" and Walter "a talented and original writer." I don't disagree with the latter claim. Walter includes thought-provoking, relatable insights throughout the book - coining life a "glorious catastrophe," positing that American faces always have "that openness, that stubborn belief in possibility, a quality that...even the youngest Italians lacked," and so on.
I particularly enjoyed a passage where Pasquale's mother claims that happiness happens when your desires and what's right align, so it behooves you to work on closing that gap. Different approaches to the ever-allusive "happiness" intrigue me.
If you're into multiple plots across multiple time periods told in several different voices, then it's right up your alley. Since that's not my cup of tea, I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars on my newly born unscientific randomly made-up ranking system. (How legit does that sound?) Still a solid read, just not a personal fave. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy! And if you do read it or have already read it, I'd love to hear your opinion. I think I'm going to tackle another memoir next - I truly appreciate all of the recommendations I received!