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Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.

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Hollywood homage, but so much more

Gifted writer honed skills over the years

By Kurt Rabin

The Free Lance-Star

IF THERE’S such a thing as the Great American Novelist, I nominate Jess Walter, a man The New York Times has called “a ridiculously talented writer,” to be on the short list of those able to pen a great book like “Beautiful Ruins.”

A career newsman, part of the Pulitzer-nominated team that covered Ruby Ridge, Walter can make sense out of complex stories. Since the new millennium, he’s turned to fiction and produced a novel every couple of years.

He’s getting better, becoming more ambitious with each new book. Not one to repeat himself, Walter ensures each novel is substantially different from its predecessor. Recognition is starting to come: Walter’s “Over Tumbled Graves” (2001) was a New York Times Notable Book, “Citizen Vance” (2005) captured an Edgar, and “The Zero” (2006) was a National Book Award finalist.

At 47, he’s got many productive years ahead of him. By contrast, the actor Richard Burton, the inspiration for the author’s latest novel, a Hollywood homage and monument to crazy love, was, at age 54, already being referred to, by writer Louis Menand, as “a beautiful ruin.”

“Beautiful Ruins” is a beautiful hodgepodge of a book that travels back and forth in time, with settings all over the globe, an enormous cast, even a film-style montage ending. Walter has said he started the book in 1997 and kept going back to it, “making sure all the pieces came together.” They did.

Kurt Rabin is a copy editor with The Free Lance–Star.


By Jess Walter

(HarperCollins, $25.99, 352 pp.)



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