Life among the ruins A quest for redemption and love
By J. Rentilly
FORTY YEARS AGO, wearing a patch over his
blinded left eye, a souvenir from a brutal playground
injury, and feeling like an outsider in his suburban
Spokane, Washington, community, 7-year-old Jess
Walter created a monthly, family-crafted anthology
called Reader’s Indigestion. Modeled on Reader’s
Digest, the homemade—indeed, handmade—
periodical featured stories, interviews, humor and
illustrations, a pastiche of the world as Walter knew it.
“Though there were
days where I wanted to
be a basketball player or
a stand-up comic or a
male model,” Walter
cracks, “I think I was
destined to be a writer. I
certainly knew from that
moment that it’s what I
wanted more than anything else in the world.”
Six novels, a work of
nonfiction and years at a
daily newspaper later,
Walter is no longer an outsider of any sort; Beautiful
Signed book giveaway
Ruins, his exquisite, heartfelt and hilarious best-
selling novel, has guaranteed that. That it took the
writer more than 15 years to compose it is testimony
to its sweeping scope and deeply personal nature.
Inspired in part by One Hundred Years of
Solitude and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, both
timeless and thoroughly contemporary, Beautiful
Ruins tells the story of a group of outcasts, misfits
and rejects united and reunited in their pursuit of
redemption and, even, love. “The novels that move
me are the ones where you connect with some shard
COSTCO HAS 50 COPIES of Jess Walter’s Beautiful
Ruins to give away. To enter, go to Costco.com,
search for “AprBookPick” and follow the
instructions. Or print your name, address and
daytime phone number on a postcard or letter and
send it to: Jess Walters, The Costco Connection,
P.O. Box 34088, Seattle, WA 98124-1088.
NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT OR OPT-IN OF ANY KIND IS
NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPSTAKES.
Purchase will not improve odds of winning. S weepstakes is sponsored by
Harper Collins, 10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022. Open to legal residents
of the U.S. (except Puerto Rico) who are age 18 or older at the time of entry.
One entry per household. Entries must be received by May 1, 2013. Winners
will be randomly selected and noti;ed by mail on or before June 1, 2013. The
value of the prize is $15.99. Void where prohibited. Winners are responsible
for all applicable federal, state and local taxes. Odds of winning depend on
the number of eligible entries received. Employees of Costco or Harper Collins
and their families are not eligible.
NEW THIS MONTH!
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Scan or click here to enter the
giveaway (see page 5 for instructions) in our digital newsstand
and online editions.
of a character’s desire or ambition or regret,” says
Walter. “Beautiful Ruins is not an autobiography by
any stretch of the imagination, but the novel does go
a lot of the places I went, both physically and emotionally, over the 15 years it took to write it.”
“It’s not surprising to me that the book took so
long,” says Cal Morgan, editorial director at Harper
Perennial, and editor of all six of Walter’s novels.
“Beautiful Ruins has such an intricate, complex
structure that it’s almost miraculous. Jess brought
the craft of an architect to his storytelling.”
IF I HAD magical powers
and could choose any book
to step into and take up
residency, it would be this
month’s pick, Beautiful
Ruins, by Jess Walters.
Walter became a professional writer and a first-time father almost simultaneously, at the age of 19,
and changed his college major from creative writing
to journalism. “I wasn’t going to support a kid
working in a novel factory,” he laughs. Instead, he
worked on a steady stream of short stories, while
paying the bills as a contributor to The Spokesman-Review, his hometown newspaper.
“Working in journalism probably kept me from
writing a whole lot of bad fiction about growing up
in the suburbs, because there’s a sort of outward-looking quality to the craft,” says Walter, who still
resides in Spokane. “As a journalist, you’re in the
world, trying to understand how everything fits together, and it develops in you a sense of curiosity
that, I think, is important to writing novels. It was
certainly important to me.”
The novel begins in
1962 on the Italian coast.
A young innkeeper looks
up to see a woman
in white approaching in a
boat. She is an American
starlet, and she is dying.
Flash forward 50 years to
a movie studio’s back lot.
An elderly man is searching
for a mysterious woman
he last saw decades ago.
Currently enjoying the publication of his first
collection of short stories, We Live in Water, and the
continued blockbuster success of Beautiful Ruins,
Walter believes that unvarnished honesty—about
the truth and in regard to his instincts—is key to his
connection with readers.
“One of the hardest things for a writer is the fear
of sentimentality, so sometimes that scares you
away from any sentiment and you get these novels
that are dry to the bone,” he says. “Beautiful Ruins
took 15 years to write, and it was a time when I lost
parents and had children and watched my oldest
daughter grow up and move away, and, you know,
you kind of can’t hide the ache of living if you’re
being honest. So I sort of didn’t try. And I think
readers really feel that.”
Walters takes readers
on a journey that includes
stops at the Cleopatra ;lm
set, the Edinburgh Fringe
Festival and points in
between. The characters
he’s created—including the
star-struck Italian man—
and the people he’s re-created—the passionate
Elizabeth Taylor and
an engaging world readers
won’t want to leave.
(Available in most warehouses, item #748995)
w h m i s and, by the end, it manages to evoke an overwhelm- says Walter, “it’s the span and scope of our e h y l t t of f
see page 59.
For more book picks,
Says editor Morgan, “Beautiful Ruins touches
people who love romance and who love to laugh,
and, by the end, it manages to evoke an overwhelm-
ing, sublime sense of destiny.”
“If there’s something I like about the book,”
says Walter, “it’s the span and scope of our
lives, that Beautiful Ruins allows us to rise
above the highway a little bit and feel
the path beneath our feet, the loves
and losses and how it all comes
together. That’s what it does for me,
and I hope it has that same effect on
other people.” C
APRIL 2013 ;e Costco Connection 55
Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco book buyer
J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based writer.