Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Time...A Beautiful 4.5 Star, Happily Rounded Up (Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter) and a Three Star w/ an Intriguing Plot but Never Pulled Me In (Little Night by Lunna Rice)

I confess...I've been in a slow reading period, largely because circumstances have just left me rather worn out.  I feel like it has been eons since I wrote a review post and even a good while since I finished the first of this review duo.

It is hard to really explain this book, another one I read thanks to the lovely folks at Harper.  It bounces from a small coastal town in Italy to Hollywood and from 1962 to the present day.   The story opens with Pasquale, a young man trying to bring tourists to an inn that's located in a town that even most maps likely overlooked.  He intersects with a young starlet who comes amid the tumultuous filming of Cleopatra, as well as a young writer trying to make sense of the world after his time in WWII.  Other plotlines involve a crumbling legacy of a Hollywood director, a starlet who thinks she has been stricken with stomach cancer, and a former musician drawn in by the dream of returning to the stage.  And, yes, since most other reviewers seem to mention it so I feel compelled to follow suit, Richard Burton has a role and there's also a glimpse of Elizabeth Taylor.

The various plotlines, characters, and timeframes could have, in the hands of another writer, sparked confusion -- especially for someone like me who often struggles with the "who was that guy?" question during movies.  However, Walter manages to make characters vivid enough to stick in the reader's memory.  She paints beautiful images of place and very real, very fallible characters.  Some are more likeable than other, but all stay in the reader's memory.  It is not an easy read, nor a particularly quick one, but I think it is worth the effort.  While I tend to read for characters, I think it also has enough plot for a reader looking for a more in-depth story.  It is a lovely story, ultimately about what and whom we love.

I'd likely give it 4.5 stars, just because I'm stingy, but I'll round up to 5.  It is a book for readers and lovers of written words looking for a novel to fall deeply into and a journey that rewards the follower.

I won a copy of this book on Goodreads and had not previously read anything by the author.  The plot was intriguing and the story opened with Clare making a visit to her sister Anne.  The sisters, close in youth, have grown apart due to Anne's controlling and abusive husband.  Clare visits in order to try to convince Anne and her young children, nicknamed Grit and Gilly, to leave the situation.  She is making progress when the husband returns home and nearly chokes his wife before Clare stops him by hitting him with a burning log.  The husband claims he was attacked, Anne backs him up, and Clare spends two years in prison.  Many years pass, with the sisters estranged, when Clare is suddenly contacted by her niece, Grit, now 21 years old.  The novel explores both Grit and Clare's lives in modern day NYC as they attempt to understand their pasts and become a new family.  There are also flashbacks to Clare and Anne's childhood as well as the story of Clare's long-term relationship with Paul, whom she met in her teens.

I wavered on this book.  I didn't really expect it to be spectacular, a bias I'll admit I hold against the more prolific fiction writers of our times.  I did enjoy it, but it definitely ebbed and flowed.  I was interested in the childhood backstory, Clare's career involving NYC bird life, the growing relationship between Grit and Clare, and in Clare's relationship with Paul.  I was less interested in the developing mystery when Grit believes her mother is trying to reach out to her, Grit's film project,  and in some of Grit's own forays into NYC, including her own flirtation and a potential career opportunity.  As I write that, it becomes clear that, beyond her intersection with Clare (one of the high-pints for me), I wasn't all that compelled by Grit.

This is an okay book, just not something I'd feel compelled to share or revisit.  Three stars.  Perfectly fine, perhaps a decent plane read to keep you busy for a bit but one I'd gladly put down for a cup of Diet Sprite from the refreshments cart.

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