Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

a story of has-beens, wanna-bes, losers of various stripes, and how they all succeed so beautifully at living.

so much american fiction has taken up the puerile, stupid, inanely limited hero’s tale. it’s the arc of every hollywood movie, the rotting spine of altogether too many novels: hero faces some deeply personal challenge (injustice, cancer, the ever eyerolling eViL), falters but ultimately takes up the fight against it, loses everything and eventually becomes even more resolute because of his/her losses, takes up the sword for one last glorious battle, and poof! wins and gets the girl/boy/diagnosis/legal settlement/money/whatever of his/her dreams.


Walter’s tale is none of the above, which is part of why it is so lovely. there is injustice, dirty-dealing, bad behavior, carelessness, self-destruction, and failure on every page, but absolutely no one takes up a sword, which is what most people don’t do. people muddle through, they do what they think is right even when they’re not sure what that is, they do the best they can, and frequently, things turn out all right. not glorious. not perfect. sometimes not even as they should be.

but they’re all right, and even imperfect things have their intense satisfactions, and occasionally, are shot through with joy.

this book, however, is i think about as close to perfect as a book gets, and i defy you to read the final chapter without feeling deeply moved. i’m reminded of the final scene of the movie “Amadeus”–one of my favorite scenes in all of moviedom–Salieri being wheeled through the asylum, offering a benediction to all of us madmen. Walter’s book will absolve you of your own failures in the sweetest and most clear-eyed possible way.