I had seen Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters in my local bookstore in a stack of paperbacks where they kept the popular fiction.
Glancing at the cover, with its sunny shot of the Italian Riviera, and the blurbs from from famous people, I instantly put it in the category of “Live, Laugh, Love” books, dismissing the novel as a piece of feel-good, literary fluff.
I didn’t have to read the back cover. I was sure Beautiful Ruins was some silly nonsense about rich people going to Italy for some spurious reason (a marriage, perhaps) and then rediscovering the joy of life among the simple Italian peasantry.
But seeing it in the Little Free Library, and needing something to read, I took it.
How wrong I was!
Instead of light fare, I got a weighty and complex tale told from multiple viewpoints, spanning from World War II to today. A story that encompassed combat fatigue, post-war poverty in Italy, the making of Cleopatra and even the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Beautiful Ruins was a literary page-turner, full of surprises.
And full of profound questions on the life of an artist. If you write one perfect chapter, is that enough? Will becoming famous really change anything? Is it more important to make money from your art or pursue your own vision?
Jess Walter’s novel left with me a lot to ponder. And it came from a novel that I dismissed as fluff, based solely on the cover. There’s a lesson there somewhere….