Although I finished it last November, the magic Jess Walters captured in "Beautiful Ruins" (2012) came rushing back reading my book journal as I anticipated a book club discussion. And though the subsequent discussion wasn't as rich as I'd hoped, it was still satisfying to return to the sprawling chronology of the novel and also to hear other readers speak of characters so vivid they felt like friends we'd all had.
Listening to the discussion of "Beautiful Ruins", it was difficult to avoid contrasting my experience with that book and the novel I finished yesterday. Despite glowing cover blurbs by such notables as Colum McCann & Ann Patchett, and a book jacket description that suggested Marquez-like mastery, beginning at about page 60, the word inert took hold in my brain. I plodded on for an additional 277 pages solely because the book was selected by a club new to me. The prose was serviceable - no groan-inducing metaphors or references to excessive flatulence. And, anyone who completes the writing of a novel deserves kudos for their tenacity. But nothing came alive for me.
After stopping full time work, I decided to discontinue a lifelong practice of finishing every book I start. What percentage that you begin do you give up on? Compulsive list maker that I am, I've kept track for about four years now; my abandonment ratio currently stands at about 5%. Although the most recent novel I finished was a suitable candidate for abandonment, at least finishing it was closely followed by a re-visit to "Beautiful Ruins". What a difference a book makes.