Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
I honestly don't know what to say about this novel. I feel like there were a lot of reasons for me to love this novel. There was an array of strong characters, a lovely European location (for half of the book), and a story that spanned half a century.
However, it just didn't all work for me. I really liked the simplicity and beauty of the relationship between Pasquale and Dee Moray. A man who feels he must be honorable and "save" this damsel in distress, whom he also happens to become enamored of at first sight. A woman who loved a man who she would never have (Richard Burton) and recognizing the choice she needed to make to respect herself, all while becoming emotionally vulnerable with Pasquale and somewhat attached. The man recognizing himself that to be truly honorable to this woman, he needed to face the dishonor in his own life.
However, I felt like the intervention of the movie business into the novel was contrived and really made the novel end in a tailspin. I didn't like the jumps in years (decades) between chapters as it felt very disjointed to me, and I didn't like that he had to use Richard Burton and Liz Taylor to make the story more "interesting".
I really felt that if he had invested in the central characters in Italy: Pasquale, Dee, Alvis Bender, and Amedea, that there would have been a much better story there. The same themes could have been explored within that story.
The central theme is great and I feel like the "honor" of the one story could have been beautifully handled, with the same outcome, without having to integrate a horrible, self-serving Hollywood producer, Michael Deane, and the terrible character of Shane Wheeler, who was literally just a translator. I actually agree with Shane's ex-wife Saundra when she calls him milk-fed veal. He's just so simpering and self-serving and just like Michael Deane, but supposedly having "learned his lesson" about being that way. Claire Silver, her boyfriend Darryl, and even Pat Bender and Lydia, were just there to provide a couple more subplots (not great ones either) and why, oh why was the Donner party even mentioned in this book? Ugh.
Finally, I couldn't stand the last chapter of this book. The last page was okay, but all of the "up-to-dates" of everybody's lives was just someone trying to tie up the loose ends quickly. It felt sloppy to me.
In the interest of not giving this a completely scathing review, the only other plus in this novel was the relationship of Pat and Lydia. I think I would be bored if I just read a cliche novel about these two and overcoming hardship and blah, blah, blah, but I really feel like this was the only other relationship that was real in this book and I wish it would have been left for another novel, instead of trying to shove them in, just so you can continue referencing Richard Burton for another 10 chapters.
There, that's it. I'm sorry that I didn't like it. I really wanted to and I really tried. I liked a part of it, but that little piece just wasn't big enough for me.