Monday, November 4, 2013

Beautiful Ruins and Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

I finished two books this weekend.  The first, The Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, I started a week or so ago.  The second, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Marie Semple, I started on Friday and finished last night.  I had enough of a book hangover that I just went to bed at 10 PM instead of starting another.




The Beautiful Ruins was good.  It was one of those books that jumps back and forth between past and present tense and each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character.  The premise is that two people, an American actress and a young, Italian hotelier, meet by chance on the coast of Italy in 1962 and sort of fall in love.  The actress is pregnant and running from the set of Cleopatra.  They lose contact for fifty years, but then the Italian flies to Hollywood to try to find her.  It was well-written with good imagery, and I really appreciated that the author wrapped up all of the characters’ stories in the end, including what would happen to them in the future.  There are some interesting, comical moments and some heartbreaker moments and a bit of social commentary on the entertainment industry (movies, TV, music).  Then, the big questions posed by the novel: Can you love the mess you’ve made of your life?  Do people ever change?  Should they?  What kind of beauty can we find in life and in others if we stop being selfish and start being selfless?




Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a page-turner and written in a really weird format; it’s a story almost entirely told through emails, faxes, and letters between the main characters.  It was a fast-paced story about familial love and what it means to give up your dreams and, in a way, also about the juxtaposition of our selfish and selfless sides.  The premise is that Bernadette is wacky, her house and marriage and falling apart, the neighbors, who are also parents with children who attend the same private school as Bernadette’s daughter, hate her, and then she disappears.  Her family, specifically her 15-year-old daughter, try to find her.  What made it fun to read was that the characters, all of them, are facing crises and they each reach a breakthrough in ways that are extreme and dramatic.  It’s sort of like reading someone else’s email.  No, it’s exactly like that, because that’s how the book is constructed.  But you feel sort of like you’re spying on people and it’s wonderful.  I highly recommend this book.  It also brought me to tears (in a good way), but it made me laugh out loud, too.


Next on my list (I’m picking these three up from the library today):

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan


I’ll let you know how they go!

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