As Dee Moray settles in at Pasquale's hotel, the oddly named Hotel Adequate View (yes, there's a story there), I was convinced I would love this book. Walters paints a beautiful picture of a quiet village still dominated by fishermen and memories of the war. Pasquale's earnest attempts to cater to his beautiful American visitor and the tenuous friendship the two form are enchanting. The village and the story has a nice bit of quirk that complements the sweetness of Dee and Pasquale's fumbling relationship, such as it is.
Then along comes Richard Burton and the fictional Michael Deane, erstwhile film producer and all-around self-involved douchebag, accompanied by a jump in time to modern day California and the whole thing came off the rails for me. Walters departs from his promising beginning to introduce us to Deane and a pack of less than lovable losers including Deane's development assistant, Claire, who came to work looking for the next big film and ended up working on some garbage reality show called Hookbook. There's Shane, who has a tattoo of a made-up Bible passage that he spent his whole life living by until it failed him catastrophically, until he heads to Hollywood to pitch his terrible movie idea to Michael Deane. Finally there's Pat Bender, washed-up frontman of a band everybody forgot, a screw-up who lost the good things in his life to drugs and bad decisions.
This is all to say that I loved the flashbacks to 1962 Italy and ensuing hijinks, but grinding through the present day with Walter's over-quirked, generally unpleasant West Coast set who are alternately trying to get ahead and right past wrongs left me cold. All that said, Walter does manage to bring things full circle in a way that tugged gently at the heartstrings as one character starts to redeem himself and in so doing sets a lot of wrongs right.
Walter is undoubtedly an excellent writer. Beautiful Ruins is packed with perfect description that captures Italy's incredible coast and quaint villages. The dialogue is fast-moving and realistic. Even the structure of the story itself is admirable, peeling itself off in layers to reveal what Dee and Pasquale and Richard Burton, and even the unlikeable Michael Deane started in 1962. Walter's biggest problem is his characters. At times their exaggerated qualities chip away at their humanity and leave caricatures in their places, which makes Beautiful Ruins a little hollow on the inside.
"...but true quests aren't measured in time or distance anyway, so much as in hope. There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant - sail for Asia and stumble on America - and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along."