So I finished two more books since my last post, and they were both really incredible stories. Book #4 of 2016 is my all-time favorite story: (it should go without saying Harry Potter competes in a league of its own) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. I’ve loved the story of Peter Pan forever, and I love all the offshoot movies and books that incorporate the story, so it’s high time I read the actual book that started it all.
Then book #5 was called Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. I got the Harper Perennial Olive Edition of this book, because whenever I see those in a bookstore it’s very hard to resist buying at least one. Something about the bright, minimalist designs and the fact that they don’t necessarily only reprint the “classics” or those books that have been deemed important by English teachers. I was introduced to Barbara Kingsolver by an Olive Edition; it was definitely not one of her most famous books but I don’t know that I’d have read anything by her yet if I hadn’t stumbled across that random, cute copy of The Bean Trees.
Anyway, Peter Pan first. I loved the novel, obviously. It was nostalgic and refreshing and a little bit more geared toward adults than I imagined it would be (I was expecting a kind of Alice in Wonderland experience). It was also almost identical to what I can remember from the Disney animated film, so nice work Disney for staying true to the story. Although it was also much more racist and sexist than I remembered, which I could have gone without.
Beautiful Ruins was a sprawling, really wonderful story that technically spanned more than 50 years and a few continents. It’s basically about a young woman who lands a role in the film Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, becomes romantically entangled with Burton and consequently involved in a whole publicity ordeal that affects her life in long-term and very major ways.
Except that doesn’t even kind of do this novel justice, because it’s also about an Italian man who falls in love with her and holds onto that love for decades, and about a present-day cast of characters both closely and loosely linked to this actress in some way, and about so much more than these characters, too. It was really a great story and I didn’t want it to end.
More than the story, though, I was struck by the author’s incredible ability to narrate from so many different voices. Walter was speaking from a quiet, young Italian man’s perspective one chapter, a twentysomething woman living in present-day Los Angeles who’s becoming disillusioned with her job and her life the next, then an addict as he’s reluctantly reaching middle age, an alcoholic war-survivor, an selfish, elderly millionaire, and others. And all of the voices were distinct and believable.
I also might be biased, because on Tuesday I actually have my first day working for HarperCollins (eeee! dreams coming true!) but this really was an incredible book, it really made me want to read more from Walter, and I’m grateful to the Olive Editions every year for choosing books that stray from the expected. ◊