I never describe books as "beach reads" because I'll read anything on a beach. But I have to say, if I were on a beach, Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins would be a very satisfying choice. On a beach in Italy would be even better. Oh well.
Actual Italian beaches are depicted in this book, circa 1962. Also present-day Hollywood and Idaho. It tells the story of American actress Dee Moray, an ingénue who has fled from the cast of Cleopatra after an ill-fated affair with Richard Burton, and who is holed up (and considering her options) in a seedy hotel on the Italian coast run by a charming young Italian named Pasquale.
The story follows Dee and Pasquale (and also a villain: the studio PR man sent to hush Dee up about the scandal) through their lives until they are reunited many years later. It is funny and heartwarming and extremely readable, a term some reviewers use to mean "overly simple" but by which I mean "flawless." Nothing takes you out of the experience.
Walter could have created a fictional film and a fictional married actor, but he chose to use Cleopatra and Richard Burton. I suppose a story about a big-budget Hollywood film made in Italy in the 1960s would just make us think of Cleopatra anyway and that would be more distracting. That is part of what I mean when I say this book is flawless; Walter knows how to mix fact and fiction, humor and pathos, hope and despair, and it's got a happy ending. What a treat.
My friend Leah offers advice on a follow-up book: Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, by Sam Kashner. And guess what? She calls this one a "beach read"! But she says it would be a really good companion to Beautiful Ruins. So there you go, two recommendations for the price of one.
Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.