The Gentleman Recommends: Jess Walter

Book cover for Does this gentleman’s influence know no bounds? First there’s the Gentleman’s Quarterly periodical that I presumably inspired and thus have no need to read, then there’s the fact that one of my recommendations was so convincing that an entire city banded together to read the same book. What’s next? A discount at the local deli? A trend of tattooing my face upon one’s own? No one knows (but at minimum I will surely be spared the glares and grimaces directed my way by fellow delicatessen patrons during my sampling hour). One thing is certain: I have tremendous clout and a duty to wield it wisely. So, friendly reader, I’m going wield it with incomparable wisdom and recommend Jess Walter.

Jess Walter is a genius, in part because he can tell a variety of different types of stories. First, I’ll type about “Citizen Vince,” another novel the Coen Brothers should adapt. It concerns a former low level criminal currently in witness protection; but – oh dang – his past is coming back to hunt him. Vince is a clever guy, and it’s tremendous fun to read his witticisms and follow his twisty tale. The story begins shortly before the 1980 presidential election and ends shortly thereafter. Like most people whose felonious past has been erased, Vince is giddy to take part in the selection of the nation’s next president. He reads the beginnings of a lot of books in order to always have a new one to talk about with a young lady who frequents the donut shop where he works. You should read this particular book to the end though, because “Citizen Vince” picks up steam as it goes.

Beautiful Ruins” is not the sort of book you’d expect the Coen Brothers to adapt (though I’m sure they could handle it), but it is easily imagined as an epic film. Some brilliant movie-makers will adapt it one day, and if they do it right,  they will probably win trophies, livestock and the other assorted plaudits Hollywood loves to dispense. The novel opens in a small Italian town with the proprietor of the “Hotel Adequate View” removing rocks from the port by hand in hopes of one day turning it into a proper beach. A young and purportedly dying actress arrives. The proprietor is smitten. But, before we learn their fates, we are spirited forward fifty years to Hollywood where a disillusioned production assistant is hoping to be convinced to stick with her movie making dreams. She decides if she doesn’t get a great pitch today,  she’s going to be the reluctant director of a cult’s museum.  A writer is ready to pitch his epic film about the Donner Party. (His pitch gets its own amazing, horrifying chapter.) A 72-year-old Hollywood big shot (with the surgically modified face best described as that of  a “nine year old Filipino girl”) is looking for a way out of his contract. The alcoholic war veteran that visited the Hotel Adequate View for a week every summer to drink and pretend to work on his novel turns back up. (We read his only completed chapter, which succeeds mightily as a short story and further proves Walter’s mastery.) Eventually, everyone’s paths intersect, and spectacularly so.

The novel closes with a firecracker of a montage that ties up the various loose ends; you will alternately and simultaneously cry and chuckle. Indeed, that sad fog condensed on more than one pair of monocles, and my chuckle hankie was often used to demurely conceal the happy bounce of my mustache. I was amazed by this book. My hunch is that you will be too.

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