*Love don't make things nice - it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and to love the wrong people and die.* [Moonstruck]
The ruination of love, a promising career, a cliff-side village, innocent ideals, a culture, even a handsome youthful face, ...elements that comprise this *beautiful* novel about balancing what we want, with what is best. It is Time that moves the element of Ruin in each case: deceit, vanity, circumstance, ego, and duty--and author Walter perfectly constructs every minute of time in this brilliant book with insightfullness and finesse...my favorite Jess Walter book to date, and one of my favorite novels of the year. A cast of some of the most memorable and endearing characters to come along in a while (and there are a lot of them in this 40 year saga), including the larger-than-life tornado of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, in a rare supporting role. It is the breathtaking Italian coast that steals the show as the main character -- so perfectly drawn that I remember that sea breeze off the Amalfi and Liguaria coasts like I was there just yesterday. Liz and Dick buzz through this seaside town and these villager's lives like a wreckless speedboat, and the story develops in that ever-growing destructive wake.
This book is cinemascope in text! About as different in subject as you could get from Walter's recent The Financial Lives of Poets, but still glittering with his original and accurate voice, his knack for capturing the social zeitgeist, and his tender compassion masked so well as dark irony. Written and performed so damned well, that I thought parts were absolutely serious (it's Hollyweird...who knows?) and it took me a few minutes to remember, "this is Jess Walter...this is sarcasm, this is funny!" (outbursts of laughter followed). He describes the lecherous and oily machinations of the 60's Hollywood scene, and a particularly vile film producer that has had so many spa treatments, facial surgeries, botox injections, "cyst and growth removals," that at 72 yrs. old he looks "like a 9-yr. old Filipino girl;" this waxen-faced producer has his assistant hold "Wild Pitch Fridays", one where a hopeful screenwriter even pitches a movie about "Donner!" (complete with exclamation point and chapter entitled "Eating Human Flesh")--it is gut-busting funny. A highlight of the book was the too-brief section where Sir Richard Burton appears--a ridiculously elegant drunk womanizer--performed so well by narrator Edoardo Ballerini that I enthusiastically made everyone I came in contact with while I listened share this part.
But, high-brow chuckles aside, this is not a humorous novel--it is a love story--or at least, several love stories, with *beautiful* and poignant scenes that just resonnate in the listener. Walter creates heart warming (and heartbreaking) moments, as well as the wonderful and sincere Pasquale, one of the most lovelorn characters since Florentino from Gabriel Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera --and one of the few characters with conscience in this story, that actually even considers the theme of desire vs. duty. (A conscience imbedded in him by a dying Italian mama and the great character of his old crone aunt, a "witch" that calls women whores and puts a curse on a drunken Sir Richard.)
The last small section of the book is one of the most outstanding "wrap-ups" I've read --moving, and again, *beautiful* in every sense.
Large and sweeping, absolutely panoramic; but it is Walter's undeniable talent that aligns it all so effortlessly that it flows into a masterpiece. Ballerini as narrator: Perfezione! From his lilting Italian prose, to his remarkable Welsh drunk dialect...no one could have performed this book better. Some may find the bulk of cast and their individual stories overwhelming, or the skipping between the past and present confusing; the conversations can languish and don't always serve to move the story forward...but there was nowhere else I wanted to go, and I loved every minute of this beautiful book..
This story is set in one of the most beautiful areas I've visited, and, like the setting, describes characters and contexts that are at once well-known and the hidden paths, seemingly discovered by chance. The novel tells many stories about how an intricate matrix of crass and benevolent characters make life-choices by following the paths to "what they want" and "what is right", and the tension when those paths are not always in parallel. Even though the "players" have flaws and can cause pain for each other, each choice shines by expressing eventually some of the better parts of human life.
There are many examples of these choices, a small example is how Jess Walter describes the growth of one of the characters who has devoted himself to building a cantilevered tennis court along the beautiful Ligurian coast. He eventually discovers that unlike the photos he's seen of tennis (he's never played), every point in tennis includes a swing that misses.
The romance, for me, is more poignant because it optimistically allows some of the best parts of human love to be expressed not through a standard "happily-ever-after" resolution, and that life includes the harder, more complex, "what is right" choices.
The narrator Edoardo Ballerini brings a depth to the characters, Italian pronunciation, and even does a Welsh voice that you'd recognize. Well done!
I actually didn't finish this book. I feel a bit lost... I am totally baffled as to how it's getting such rave reviews. I had such high hopes for this book. It looked beautiful. Sounded beautiful. Had such literary potential. But then I began listening. And listening. And listening. And I waited for that moment that everyone else seemed to have, where the descriptions made them want to drop everything and fly to Italy. Or where the amazing writing of old Hollywood captivated them. It just never happened. I was not only bored with the story, but never have I read a story that so abruptly jarred me back and forth between scenes. It just didn't flow nicely. Plus, there were some really odd changes with the tenses, shifting from past to present. About 3/4 of the way through (blasphemous, I know), I just gave up. In all honesty, there are so many other books I'd rather be reading. Not sure why I wasn't one of the enlightened ones, but I just wasn't.
One of my favorite pastimes is to browse the audible website which is how I found this book. Based on other reviews, I decided to give it a try....someone mentioned they heard high praise of it on NPR which was good enough for me. It took me an hour or so to get into it....I can honestly say I didn't like the whole Donner party stuff but weathered that storyline well enough. In the end I think this will go down as one of my all time favorite reads. The wonderful reading by Edoardo just enhances the characters. It was a wonderfully and inventively woven tale which ended with me shedding a few quiet tears...though it's not sad.....just the richness and fullness of life.
I was told about this book by a friend who had read the printed version. After listening to the excellent narration of a wonderful story, I wanted to tell my friend she had somehow been cheated and desperately needed to listen to it! Truly a fantastic book and narration. And, it didn't hurt that my mother's family is originally from the region of Italy depicted in the story... a beautiful part of a beautiful country.
Say something about yourself!
I LOVE this book! The title is perfect. Even some ruins are just as beautiful in what they became as how they started out - completely different but beutiful. I???m still crying because???the book ended? the book/end was so well done? because I could have never imagined it would end this way. YES to all.
This book has so many great elements ??? and the narration of Edoardo Ballerini ??? spot on!! I laughed until I cried (especially the Richard Burton scenes ??? but so many others!), and I cried and didn???t want to stop. I lost a whole weekend because I could not stop listening ??? this is a warning. The only critical thing I can say about it is some parts start at the end and work back, some parts don???t, but in the end it was perfect. Rest assured you end up knowing what you need to know ??? and I would NOT change a thing. DO NOT SKIP THE EPILOG.
I would buy this again if I had to; thank goodness I can listen to it as many times as I want. Thank you Jess Walter and Audible!
Jess Walter - I will read anything you write from now on (I say that now...:).
The best review
Newly retired, I am a reading fiend! I like many types of books, both fiction and non-fiction, with the exception of romance and fantasy
With all the 5 star reviews, I felt I couldn't go wrong with this book. Much to my surprise, I did not enjoy it at all. It started out in Italy and seemed very promising. Then it began jumping back and forth in time. Then, the author added numerous unlikeable characters. Then there was the Richard Burton and Liz Taylor thread. All the while, the narrator sounded like he had taken lessons from Scott Brick. He just got carried away with himself. While he was fine with the Italian accents, I really disliked his performance with the rest of the characters and his style of speaking. I would not seek out this narrator and perhaps might even avoid him in the future.
As for the story itself, it seemed a bit farfetched to believe a woman could confuse pregnancy with stomach cancer. We heard over and over again about how beautiful she was but little else was developed about her personality, other than she raised a very disturbed son and seemed to be a basket case herself. The Hollywood characters bored me to tears. Then, there wasn't enough payoff in the end. I kept hoping the ending would redeem it for me.
All the while, I kept wondering what was wrong with me. How could I dislike a book with such consistent rave reviews? I started going back to the reviews, reading them in hopes I would find the missing element that would enhance this experience for me. It didn't work. I guess you can't please all of the people all of the time.
This is another instance where I've purchased a book because of the great reviews. I agree with Kathy's review, except I thought the narrator was OK. I didn't feel any character was well developed and really disliked the back and forth between the character stories. At first I thought I didn't "bond" with the book because I wasn't traveling very much and therefore was only able to listen in short spurts. When it was over, I was glad. I also felt there was too much time spent on the son, who was not integral to the story in my opinion. The other characters could have used all that story line time.
Superb performance and lovely descriptions of place aren't enough to fluff up the rather flat characters and rather predictable story. Pasquale and Dee, were probably the closest to fully fledged characters, but still not enough to drum up emotion to really drive the story for me. Lacking some real character driven events, the storyline is injected with a few odd, somewhat awkward, turns to keep it moving to the desired conclusion. Overall, not a completely unpleasant diversion though, the actor's performance is brilliant and it's easy to imagine losing oneself on one of these islands.
After a series of very enjoyable listens, I read the reviews for this book and thought that it sounded good. Despite a number of starts and stops, I just could not engender any interest in the story. I kept thinking that it would get better, but for me, it did not. I gave up just into the second part.