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Jess Walter - Beautiful RuinsWe All Want Something Beautiful

A Review of

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel

Jess Walter

Hardback: Harper, 2012.
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Reviewed by Timothy Stege.

Growing up in the far south suburbs of Chicagoland, I was immersed in and surrounded by towns whose glory days had past. Gary, Indiana, collapsing into decay along with the steel mills and exported jobs, lay but a short drive to the east. To the west, Chicago Heights – former home of Al Capone and beautiful shopping centers and theaters and thriving industries – boarded up and falling down, its industrial zones like ghost towns. And my hometown, aging before my then adolescent eyes with the speed of time-lapse photography, now a place ?lled with only the memories of what is lost: vacant homes and failed subdivisions and shuttered businesses and overgrown parks. Sometimes when I pass through these old neighborhoods I am ?lled with a sadness that I can never quite put to words; it is a sadness rooted in the feeling that something beautiful has been lost, something that may never be recovered.

This feeling of ruined beauty permeates the atmosphere of Jess Walter’s latest novel, Beautiful Ruins. Walter’s narrative spans some 50 years and travels through Italy, the U.S., and England, and is not a singular tale. Rather, it moves back and forth through time and place, allowing the reader to see how the stories of nearly a dozen characters converge and diverge – some to converge again, some to spiral off into their own narratives, all to be affected by the actions of some of the others, all to show glimpses of beauty and ruin.

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