Reaching for Cinque Terra: Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins
When is a dream just a dream? And when does it unsuspectingly become our reality? The enchanting and charming Beautiful Ruins, a novel by award-winning author Jess Walter, gives us pause and good reason to wonder. For it is through his rare and exquisite storytelling that we discover the rich depth and soulful validation of daily hopes, heartbreak, and human existence.
Cinque Terre is a small stretch of Italian coastline, comprised of five fishing villages. A worn, early morning church bell tolls; locals and visitors awake to the delights of hot espresso, warm focaccia bread, salty sea air, and the comings and goings of small boats and fishing vessels. After a day of swimming, sunbathing, or hiking the vigorous mountain trails through upper vineyards and olive trees, Ligurian breezes rise to cool vacationers' spent, sun-stained bodies, sipping a glass of local vino or chilled Limoncello under makeshift canopies at water's edge. An Italian Brigadoon, these five gems are the smaller, less commercial cousins of the Amalfi Coast. To visit is to spend time out of time, in the Italia we all dream of.
Pasquale's dream began fifty years ago. As a young Italian man in his early twenties, he imagines his tiny town someday joining the glimmering Italian bracelet of Cinque Terre. Located just to the south, his ignored and inaccessible seaside village is his life -- where he tends to his bedridden, aging mother and cantankerous aunt, making small improvements to their modest inn, while harboring hopes as steep and wide as the huge cliffs overlooking this poor huddle of fishermen and their families. All of that changes when a beautiful young actress arrives by boat and happenstance. Pasquale is immediately smitten. But his innocent, gentle pursuit of amore proves rockier and more tortuous than the rugged hillside footpaths rising above his town. When Richard Burton (is there another?) unexpectedly arrives in pursuit of the fair beauty, the story breaks open into a wider berth, leading to modern-day Hollywood, and an unexpected new direction for Pasquale's future. (Under a less talented author's pen, this unlikely development might not bear the weight of its own creativity. But Jess Walter's exceptional writing makes such transitions natural and seamless.)
Over a fifty-year span, some dreams lead to Florence, to Genoa, Seattle, or London before arriving at their destination like a travel-weary, battered old suitcase. By the time the duopoly of yesteryear and today are heading toward collision, we are fully immersed and invested, inhabiting the fragile lives and tender yearnings of each unforgettable character. Their story is a beautiful romance, a heartbreaking drama, a hysterical and adventurous farce, all offered and infused with moments of grace … inspiring tears, deep-felt sighs, and molte risate (many laughs.)
This is no everyday eBook. This is a book to be cherished, kept, and revisited in your personal collection. It is simply a treasure. I fell in love with it. Maybe there's a little Pasquale in all of us. Or perhaps we'll someday meet in Cinque Terre.