Jess Walter: "Beautiful Ruins" explores love, loss

Fri Jun 22, 2012 3:22pm EDT
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Most love stories originate with great romance, but for Jess Walter, it was his dying mother who inspired him to pen an epic tale of lost love in "Beautiful Ruins."

Published earlier this month, the novel takes readers on a vast journey spanning five decades and two continents, uncovering a mystery-filled relationship between a small-town Italian man, Pasquale Tursi, and a Hollywood actress, Dee Moray.

Their romance is set against the backdrop of the beginning of the scandalous affair between Hollywood screen icons Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, while they were filming "Cleopatra" in Rome in 1962.

Walter, a native of Spokane, Washington, spoke with Reuters about the challenges of writing a complex timeline of events, harnessing historic Italian landscapes with Hollywood modernity and why the ending may not be what readers expect.

Q: What inspired the story of "Beautiful Ruins?"

A: I first went to Italy in 1997 ... I was just so taken by the place as a lot of people are. My mother was dying of cancer right around that time, and she's about the age of Dee Moray. I was in one of those places that I wanted to show my mom, so I started writing about a woman arriving in Italy in 1962, around the age my mom would have been.

Q: Although the Cinque Terre in Italy is a real place, why did you create the sleepy town of Porto Vergogna for the book?

A: I was hiking along the Cinque Terre and thought because I'm not Italian, it seems so audacious to write about this place, so I invented my own village, Porto Vergogna, and invented the Hotel Adequate View. I then had to look for a story to figure out the mystery. I did research and found out "Cleopatra" was being filmed during that time, and often, the novelist gets led around by the nose doing research.   Continued...