The novel begins in 1962, when Pasquale Tursi is a young man. He dreams of turning his very small Italian seaside village into a tourist attraction, so he is futilely trying to create a beach on a small strip of waterfront when a boat pulls in. It is carrying Dee Moray, an American actress who has been working on the troubled set of the movie Cleopatra. She has fallen ill and has come to Porto Vergogna to wait for her lover at Pasquale’s hotel, the Hotel Adequate View. Pasquale is immediately smitten.
In present-day Los Angeles, Claire Silver is contemplating leaving what she thought was her dream job, as chief development assistant for the legendary film producer Michael Deane. Claire’s vision for the job had been that she would help develop many exciting projects, but unfortunately for her, Deane hadn’t produced a hit in years until Hookbook, a TV “reality” show, like Facebook for dating. Since then, she has spent her time listening to pitches for sleazy reality programs.
This day might be her last Wild Pitch Wednesday, when anyone who can get an appointment can pitch her an idea. If she takes the new job she’s been offered, she’ll return to film archiving–for the Church of Scientology.
Shane Wheeler is on his way from Portland, Oregon, to present an idea at Wild Pitch Wednesday. A failed novelist, he has decided to trying pitching an idea for a movie about the Donner Party. On the way into the building, he encounters Pasquale, who has come all the way from Italy to try to find Dee Moray. Pasquale’s only lead is an ancient business card he got from Michael Deane, who was an assistant on the movie at the time, taking care of problems such as those posed by the scandalous affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Shane, Claire, and Michael Deane soon find themselves involved in helping Pasquale find Dee.
These are only a few of the characters we encounter as the story moves backwards and forwards in time, moves from person to person in point of view, and takes us from rural Italy to Rome to the inner circles of Hollywood to the Fringe Festival of Edinburgh to an amateur theatre performance in Idaho. On the way we are entertained by wry observations on the Hollywood film business and the music business, and the straight narrative style is carried forward by partial movie scripts, acts from plays, pitches, pseudo-pitches, a chapter from a novel, and some brief notes.
At times knowing, at times amusing, at times sweet, Beautiful Ruins is an engaging postmodern love story and commentary on the entertainment industry.