I have finished the 71st book for the book challenge. It was Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter.
This story is about a love story that endures for fifty years. The story begins in Los Angeles in the present day, with a production assistant named Claire who is listening to the pitches of potential screenwriters for her boss, the producer Michael Deane, the seventy-something reality show producer. Claire is discouraged and thinking about leaving her job for a post at film museum run by the Church of Scientology and she is also having problems with her boyfriend. Along comes Shane Walker from the Northwest, to pitch his screenplay Donner!, about the ill-fated Donner party. But he is late and Claire has locks the studio and has left for the day. But she comes back to find Shane and a little Italian man, Pasquale Tursi, aged seventy, who is looking for Michael Deane. Shane can speak Italian and so becomes the “interpreter” for Tursi, and gets to pitch his screenplay, which Michael Deane loves. It is discovered that Mr. Tursi is looking for Dee Moray, an actress that he met in Italy 50 years ago. Michael Deane remembers the meetings well and hires a private detective to find her.
In a series of back-and-forth chapter flashbacks, between Italy and Seattle, and Idaho, we follow the history of Dee Moray the actress and Pasquale Tursi the Italian proprietor of a hotel on the rocky coast of Italy. Dee had come to his little out-of-the-way hotel when she became ill on the movie set of Cleopatra in Italy. The doctor told her she had stomach cancer, but in reality, she was pregnant with actor Richard Burton’s child. She stayed at Tursi’s hotel and was ill, but became friends with Tursi. They went to a little cave where there were paintings done by a German soldier during the war. Dee read the chapter that the American Alvis Bender had written while he was at the hotel. Tursi was smitten with Dee Moray. He traveled to Rome to find out why Michael Deane did not come to take care of Dee. He brought back Richard Burton, who was drinking heavily and they took Dee to another hotel in another village. Burton and Deane told Dee that she wasn’t dying of cancer and tried to convince her to go to Switzerland for an abortion. She didn’t go, but returned to Tursi’s hotel in the little village. There she meets Alvis Bender who has returned to the hotel. Meanwhile. Tursi’s aunt Valeria had killed Tursi’s mother in a mercy killing. She was in pain and Valeria killed her so that Tursi could be with the American actress. Tursi’s girlfriend in Florence had given birth to their son and was raising him as her brother in her family in Florence. He is torn by this. He leaves the actress Dee Moray at his hotel in the village and goes to bury his mother. That is the last time Tursi sees Dee Moray. Tursi eventually goes to Florence and asks for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage and raises his son and has two daughters as well.
Dee Moray returns to the United States. She does not have the abortion but has the baby and names him Pasquale or Pat, after Tursi. She settles in Seattle. Alvis Bender comes to Seattle to look after a car dealership for his father and looks up Dee, now Debra Morgan. They marry and he raises Pat as his son. Debra studies Italian and teaches theater and Italian. She also acts in theater groups. Alvis is killed in an accident. Debra continues to teach and to act. Pat becomes a musician and becomes a drug addict and has a rough few years into his adulthood. Debra has cancer, and Pat’s girlfriend helps her through her treatments. Pat asks to come home after a bad patch in England and Scotland. His girlfriend Lydia writes a play about that time and Debra produces the play in her theater in Idaho.
The private detective locates Dee, now Debra, in Idaho. Claire, Share, Michael Deane, and Tursi all fly to Washington and then drive to Idaho to see Front Man, the play about Pat Bender in Debra Bender’s theater. Then they hope to see Debra Bender so that Pasquale Tursi can meet her again. They see the play and Michael Deane wants to buy the rights to the play and to Pat Bender’s life. Debra and Pat do not go to the after-party, so they find someone to take them to Debra’s home. Debra immediately recognizes Tursi. She decides to tell Pat the truth about who his father is. Michael Deane negotiates to secure the rights to the film version of the play. He then proceeds to change it beyond all recognition, which is fine with Pat. Pat is busy reviewing all of Richard Burton’s films. Shane gets money for his film pitch even though it will not be made into a film. Claire and her boyfriend reconcile.
And Debra and Pasquale return to Italy to rekindle their relationship. They are not sure how far it will go, but it is a start.
This is such a sweet love story. You can’t help but fall in love with the purity of the love that Pasquale feels for Dee. He only wants what is best for her. He tramps all over Italy to find Michael Deane who has abandoned her at Pasquale’s hotel when she was sick, and Pasquale knows this isn’t right. He seeks Deane out to find him and tell him that he needs to do right by her. He finds Richard Burton and leads him back to Dee, even knowing that he is a cad, but he is the father of her baby. And he stands by her through thick and thin. And fifty years later, Pasquale comes looking for her after the death of his wife. He still cares for the lovely American all these years later.
I enjoyed this book, even with all the hopping around from 1962 to present day to the 1970s and 1990s. It got a little confusing sometimes, but eventually I got used to it. It was easier to keep going from 1962 to the present than from the intervening years. But on the whole, I loved the book. I loved the love story of Pasquale and Debra.