Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
In 1962 an actress turns up on the tiny little island or Porto Vergogna. No one is more shocked than young Pasquale, who has taken over running the family inn, Hotel Adequate View, after his father's death. Dee Moray believes she is dying of cancer when she is brought to the dock and helped to a room. She was working of the set of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
In the present, a production assistant named Claire, gets stuck hearing the pitches for people who her boss, Michael Deane, has given his card to over the years. Claire is feeling lost in her job and her relationship and is thinking of moving on. Michael Deane got his start as a big game player in the early 60's when he showed the studio heads his gift for figuring out what people really desire and giving it to them.
The last appointment for the day is late and as Claire attempts to close the office for the day, two gentlemen arrive. Pasquale, who has traveled from Italy to find Mr. Deane and, Shane, her last appointment who has come to pitch a screenplay about the Donner party, focusing on one of the survivors who went in search of rescue for his family. Luckily, Shane speaks a little Italian and so becomes essential in helping the older gentleman, keeping him in on the adventure.
It turns out that Pasquale is looking to find Dee Moray and find out what happened to her after he last saw her in 1962. The only other American Pasquale knew before Ms. Moray was an author who came every year, he said, to work on his book. As a gesture, he wrote the first chapter and left it with Pasquale. Then Dee Moray showed up and Pasquale felt he needed to protect the girl. He headed to Rome to find out why someone sent this sick girl to this remote island. Here he meets Michael Deane who has tried to scare the girl off to Switzerland for an abortion, but instead convinced the doctor to tell her she could have cancer to keep her compliant, not knowing about her family history of the disease. Pasquale returns to the island with Richard Burton, who goes to make sure Dee is okay.
Michael Deane, who doesn't seem to have much of a conscience, always regrets how he handled the Dee Moray situation and he agrees to find the actress and take Pasquale to see her. Deane's sources find her and he, Pasquale, Claire and Shane set out to set some wrongs to rights. Along the way Claire makes some decisions about her future, Shane learns a lot about himself and the movie business and Michael Deane gets enlightened as well.
The story moves back and forth through time as the story gets presented to the reader. Little by little, the full picture comes into view and you see how all of the characters fit together. I wasn't sure how I would feel about the Richard Burton part of the storyline, but I actually enjoyed everything about this book. The language was lovely, I got to work on my burgeoning Italian skills, so grazie, Signor Walter, for that. The characters were likable and I looked forward to seeing where they were headed.
This book has earned a spot in the 2013 Tournament of Books and I believe that it was well deserved.