Beautiful Ruins: A Novel - Jess Walter Life is a film. You may often hear people say, “that only happens in movies,” yet in Beautiful Ruins, Walter tells us that each of our lives is a cinematic wonder, a staging of beauty and sorrow. But I don’t believe this. Life (and good literature, which should reproduce human life) is separate from film. That division, the division between the fantastical la-la land of movies and the harshness of reality, is important to me, so this book failed on a major level.To present this theme to the reader, Walter writes his book almost like a screenplay and mixes fictional Hollywood characters with an actual Hollywood storyline concerning the love affair between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton during the filming of nightmare movie Cleopatra. A sample of the writing: Not quite thirty, Shane Wheeler is tall, lean, and a little feral-looking, narrow face framed by an ocean-chop of brown hair and two table-leg sideburns. For twenty minutes, Shane has been coaxing an outfit from this autumn-leaf pile of discarded clothes: wrinkly polos, quirky secondhand Ts, faux Western button shirts, boot-cut jeans, skinny jeans, torn jeans, slacks, khakis, and cords, none of it quite right for the too-talented-to-care nonchalance he imagines is appropriate for his first-ever Hollywood pitch meeting.Isn’t that such an odd paragraph (the copious hyphenated words notwithstanding)? It’s so cinematic; I can just picture it as a screenplay: “Pan in on young man and pile of clothes, including …” Most of the book is written like this. I don’t know if the author intended to mimic screenplay writing, but whether he did or not, it’s irritating to read. It seems remarkably amateur, like “This is Shane. Shane looks like this. Shane does this.” Because of this style, the characters do not seem like real people but rather characters in an epic. The plot also mirrors that of a movie. As a casual admirer of the occasional film, this technique is both good and bad. Movies uplift us, and this book, especially at the climax where all the characters step out of their individual vignettes to become an ensemble, made my emotions soar. But movies are also false. Movies focus more on theatrics than reality, and frustratingly, I noticed that in Beautiful Ruins as well. Walter asserts that we’re all “beautiful ruins,” messes with wonderful screwed-up lives, but this message does not align with the book’s structure. The whole book is heightened with drama. It’s a film in literature form, happy ending included.Mostly, though, I disliked Walter’s faux-profundity, though by the number of kindle highlighters, it appears that most people found him truly profound. To me, everything in this book was SO obvious. I wanted to scream at the author to get some original ideas. Nothing in this book was something I hadn’t seen before or thought of myself. Exhibit A: it was as if I was a character in a movie and the real action was about to start at any minute. But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.This quotation had 335 kindle highlights when I read it. I must ask: WHY? It’s such a cliché! The book is essentially a bunch of semi-interesting, unoriginal ideas packaged into pretty quotations. All I could think as I read was: does this author have nothing new to say? Does he only write in clichés because he lacks any original ideas of his own?I enjoyed parts of this book—the cool blend of fact and fiction, the romantic backdrop of the film set of Cleopatra, the real-life characters Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. For the most part, however, it made me mad. Life is NOT a movie and we are NOT all “beautiful ruins.” This pure, unfiltered melodramatic sap, spiked with artificial depth. Also, this is a legitimate quotation from the book, coming right in the middle of describing an elderly man’s humdrum morning routine. When I read it, I highlighted it and annotated “wtf??? is this a joke?” I still have no idea. Or wait…is that the pill he took an hour ago? Ah yes, there it is, kicking in right on schedule: beneath the script, decrepit nerve terminals and endothelial cells release nitric oxide into the corpus cavernosum, which stimulates the synthesis of cyclic GMP, stiffening the well-used smooth muscle cells and flooding the old spongy tissue with blood.My guess is the author is showing off.