Ah, what if? This universal refrain underlies Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, a spirited novel that begins when its hero, ill-fated Italian hotelier Pasquale Tursi, must decide whether to confess his feelings for a beautiful American actress who unexpectedly turns up in his sleepy seaside village. Fifty years later, Pasquale heads to Hollywood to track down his lost love and runs into a supporting cast of characters similarly obsessed with the fallout from their past decisions. From failed screenwriters and actors to a cosmetically enhanced has-been producer who knows more than he lets on, each character’s quest for notoriety ends in a reflection on the choices that invariably led to another path. In a tale told with warmth and humour, Walter’s quirky, engaging characters are ultimately redeemed by their “stubborn belief in possibility.”
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, $26.