I’m fortunate to work at a community college that sits high above the Columbia Gorge, easily one of the most beautiful drives in America. And as I travel through the gorge, I have ample time to listen to stories unfold. Some are good, some are exquisite.
Beautiful Ruins, as the title suggests, is what happens at the end of your life, if you’re lucky. Through happenstance, bad luck, wrong turns, and meaningful misses, there might be closure, as Jess Walter adeptly pushes compelling characters into ultimately looking over the cliff of their lives. Is there redemption? Maybe. Is there closure? Possibly. It’s a satisfying story that makes you stop, pause, and wonder, as if looking at a fading colorful horizon.
I haven’t read a book like this since Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. As in The Shipping News, Beautiful Ruins ends in a hollow of hope. Mirroring Proulx’s rich sense of character, Walter also develops intricate and satisfying storylines that make you care about seemingly disparate people. And how Walter ties them together, while not seamless, ultimately makes sense. This is like life, it’s a mess, and it gets ruined at some point, then we search for the beauty and the comfort it might possible hold.
Beautiful Ruins is read by one of the best audio book performers going, Edoardo Ballerini, whose accent is pitch-perfect for this read. His read is a subtle performance for a profoundly beautiful book.
Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is one of those mesmerizing stories that deserves the acclaim it received. The unforgettable story of a marathon runner who survives incredible trials during WWII – a life raft at open sea, Japanese POW camps, and the unrelenting flashbacks from never-ending punishments. An inspiring story of survival that is bearly hard to grasp, let alone believe.
Top this story off with a robust reading by Edward Hermann, who captures perfectly the despair and triumph against all odds.
I’m also enjoying the New Yorker Page-Turner podcasts where authors read authors. and offer their take and observations of why the stories they choose work so well. My favorite so far, certainly because I’ve always though of it as one of the strongest stories I’ve ever read, is Dennis Johnson’s stunning, “Work” from his story collection “Jesus’ Son.” Donald Antrim gives it a great read, and draws out what makes the story such a profound study of a lost soul who just can’t get unlost. There are sentences and visions in this story that pop-up years after you’ve read them. Enjoy!