four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
By: 
Scott Smith
user_rating: 
0

A-The RuinsFour disaffected American twentysomethings attempt to escape the tensions and irritations of their everyday lives by going on vacation to Cancún. On a whim, they join two other tourists, a German and a Greek, on a trip into the jungle, where they search for a rumored archaeological dig and the German’s missing brother. What they find instead are bow-wielding Mayans who leave them trapped in the clutches of an intelligent vine with a taste for human flesh. The fears and shortcomings of the protagonists come to light as the screaming begins.
Knopf . 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1400043875

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 5 of 5 Stars
"The best American horror novel since Stephen King’s The Shining. … [Smith] understands that sometimes there is no justice, that God might not be watching out for us, and that that’s the scariest notion of all." Christopher Kelly

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Ruins is a tour de force of terror. … Like [Smith’s first novel] A Simple Plan, it’s driven by a keen sense of character, the collision of the mundane and the extraordinary, and an abiding fascination with choices and their consequences." Douglas E. Winter

Charlotte Observer 4 of 5 Stars
"It contains passages—including one that takes place at the bottom of an abandoned mine—that are among the scariest I have read. … The Ruins may not be as psychologically probing as A Simple Plan, but it’s ruthless, unrelenting genre fiction of the highest order." Sam Shapiro

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The Ruins is a shoe-in for best-selling oddity of 2006: a book that makes readers simultaneously shiver with fright and grin delightfully at the entertaining madness of Smith’s weird concoction." Dorman T. Shindler

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book’s tone is dark, foreboding, and rings with the interior wail of untaken choices. … It’s also about the erosion of hope, as unrelenting as grains of sand through an hourglass." Randy Michael Signor

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Smith has a gift for low-key realism: what his characters think and feel, as they descend into hell, is utterly convincing. … The Ruins is superior horror literature, but it does not entirely overcome the pile-driving limitations of the genre; it might have been more effective as a short story." Gary Kamiya

Philadelphia Inquirer 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Suddenly … the book stops, transitioning abruptly from Hitchcock masterpiece to slasher flick. … Because Smith’s novel cannot find its meaning, it seems filled with gratuitous violence, severed legs for the sake of severed legs." Elizabeth Fox

New York Times 1 of 5 Stars
"The problem is these Wicked Plants—who can speak German as well as English, and who can mimic cellphone ring tones as well as human voices—are so ludicrous that they undercut all of the suspense Mr. Smith has managed to create in the well-turned opening sections of the novel." Michiko Kakutani

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 1 of 5 Stars
"The two things that make A Simple Plan such a compelling story—believability and well-drawn characters—are missing and unaccounted for in The Ruins. … [It is] neither good suspense nor insightful fiction." Dennis Getto

Critical Summary

The Ruins, the long-awaited second novel from the author of the acclaimed A Simple Plan, is more horror than thriller, a shift that most critics found intriguing. A few reviewers, ample with praise, even compared it to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Readers who approach Ruins as genre fiction and expect plenty of gore and fear will get just what they’re looking for. Although the novel does include a fair amount of character development and analysis, readers hoping for in-depth psychological studies (or who are disturbed by grotesque violence and bodily fluids) will probably be disappointed. This is not a novel about "why": you’ll have many questions that will go unanswered. That left three critics severely disappointed, and it’s up to you to figure out if you’re ready for the slasher portion of the novel. Regardless of genre, Scott Smith remains a skillful and incisive writer.

Also by the Author

A Simple Plan (1993): When three men find a wrecked plane containing a dead pilot and $4 million, they devise a foolproof plan for stealing the money. But their plan turns out to be not so simple. Movie: 1998, starring Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, and Billy Bob Thornton, and directed by Sam Raimi.