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The Ruins Hardcover – July 18, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

In 1993, Scott Smith wowed readers with A Simple Plan, his stunning debut thriller about what happens when three men find a wrecked plane and bag stuffed with over 4 million dollars--a book that Stephen King called "Simply the best suspense novel of the year!" Now, thirteen years after writing a novel that turned into a pretty great movie featuring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, Smith is back, with The Ruins, a horror-thriller about four Americans traveling in Mexico who stumble across a nightmare in the jungle. Who better to tell readers if Smith has done it again than the undisputed King of Horror (and champion of Smith's first book)? We asked Stephen King to read The Ruins and give us his take. Check out his review below. --Daphne Durham

Guest Reviewer: Stephen King

Stephen King is the author of too many bestselling books to name here, but some of our favorites include: Cell, The Stand, On Writing, The Shining, and the entire Dark Tower series. King also received the National Book Foundation 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, has had many movies and television miniseries adapted from his novels, short stories, and screenplays, and is a regular columnist for Entertainment Weekly. Keep your eyes peeled for Lisey's Story (October 2006), a new television series on TNT based on Nightmares & Dreamscapes (July 2007), and a graphic novel series based on the Dark Tower books coming from Marvel (2007).

When I heard that Scott Smith was publishing a new novel this summer, I felt the way I did when my kids came in an hour or two late from their weekend dates: a combination of welcoming relief (thank God you're back) mingled with exasperation and anger (where the hell have you been?). Well, it's only a book, you say, and maybe that's true, but Scott Smith is a singularly gifted writer, and it seems to me that the twelve years between his debut--the cult smash A Simple Plan--and his return this summer with The Ruins is cause for exasperation, if not outright anger. Certainly Smith, who has been invisible save for his Academy Award-nominated screenplay for the film version of A Simple Plan, will have some 'splainin to do about how he spent his summer vacation. Make that his last twelve summer vacations.

But enough. The new book is here, and the question devotees of A Simple Plan will want answered is whether or not this book generates anything like Plan's harrowing suspense. The answer is yes. The Ruins is going to be America's literary shock-show this summer, doing for vacations in Mexico what Jaws did for beach weekends on Long Island. Is it as successful and fulfilling as a novel? The answer is not quite, but I can live with that, because it's riskier. There will be reviews of this book by critics who have little liking or understanding for popular fiction who'll dismiss it as nothing but a short story that has been bloated to novel length (I'm thinking of Michiko Kakutani, for instance, who microwaved Smith's first book). These critics, who steadfastly grant pop fiction no virtue but raw plot, will miss the dazzle of Smith's technique; The Ruins is the equivalent of a triple axel that just misses perfection because something's wrong with the final spin.

It's hard to say much about the book without giving away everything, because the thing is as simple and deadly as a leg-hold trap concealed in a drift of leaves…or, in this case, a mass of vines. You've got four young American tourists--Eric, Jeff, Amy, and Stacy--in Cancun. They make friends with a German named Mathias whose brother has gone off into the jungle with some archeologists. These five, plus a cheerful Greek with no English (but a plentiful supply of tequila), head up a jungle trail to find Mathias's brother…the archaeologists…and the ruins.

Well, two out of three ain't bad, according to the old saying, and in this case; what's waiting in the jungle isn't just bad, it's horrible. Most of The Ruins's 300-plus pages is one long, screaming close-up of that horror. There's no let-up, not so much as a chapter-break where you can catch your breath. I felt that The Ruins did draw on a trifle, but I found Scott Smith's refusal to look away heroic, just as I did in A Simple Plan. It's the trappings of horror and suspense that will make the book a best seller, but its claim to literature lies in its unflinching naturalism. It's no Heart of Darkness, but at its suffocating, terrifying, claustrophobic best, it made me think of Frank Norris. Not a bad comparison, at that.

One only hopes Mr. Smith won't stay away so long next time.--Stephen King

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At long last, Smith follows up his bestselling first novel, A Simple Plan (1993), the film of which received an Oscar nomination for best screenplay, with a stunning horror thriller. Four American friends on vacation in Cancún, Mexico—Jeff, Amy, Eric and Stacy—meet a German tourist, Mathias, who persuades them to join his hunt for his younger brother, Henrich, last seen headed off with a new girlfriend toward some ruins. The four soon regret their impulsive decision after they find themselves lost in the jungle and freaked out by signs that they're headed for danger. Smith builds suspense through the slow accretion of telling details, until a deadly menace starts taking its toll, leaving the survivors increasingly at each other's throats. While admirers of such classic genre writers as John Wyndham or Algernon Blackwood may find the horror less suggestive than they might wish, the eerie atmosphere and compelling plot should appeal to fans of ABC's hit TV series Lost, who will help propel this page-turner up bestseller lists. Ben Stiller's production company has bought film rights. 100,000 first printing. (July)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (July 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043875
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043873
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,217,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 73 people found the following review helpful By A Reviewer on July 29, 2010
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm not sure what some of the reviewers on this site are smoking, but I found this to be an excellent horror story. I suspect many of them read the author's first book, "A Simple Plan" which was a crime drama, and expected something similar. I am not much of a fan of crime dramas, but I do love horror, and this is good horror. Horror is internal, it's about visceral fear and dread. It's not about nonstop action or contorted plot twists. This story is not primarily about the flowering plant from hell (not available at your local florist). It is about survival, and the way people really react to a life-threatening and seemingly hopeless situation. Whereas the characters in many horror stories are virtually indistinguishable from one another, the characters here are vividly and realistically drawn. They are recognizable as individuals, and seem like living, breathing humans (I think I may have dated Stacy at one time). How their relationships change as things go from bad to worse is also quite believable. And about that clearly isn't a plant at all. It is carnivorous, can live in complete darkness, can move, and eats with its flowers and leaves, none of which a plant does. It can mimic sounds and smells, why couldn't it also mimic a plant in its appearance? And if an alien life form were to find itself in a tropical rain forest, what better thing to mimic than a flowering plant? The fact that it might not be a plant is alluded to by Jeff in a conversation late in the book, but the author leaves it to the reader to draw his/her own conclusion. Anyway, this is a good read and I think Scott Smith is taking an undeserved beating here.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Sheila D. on June 12, 2010
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I agree with the others who are shaking their heads over the negative reviews here. Bloated,? Tedious? Poorly explained? Really? This is a very solid, tightly plotted, flawlessly written, extraordinary read that grabbed me from the get-go and kept me reading for 6 hours straight until I finished the book, something as a very busy person with a full time job and two kids I do not usually do. Neither do I usually take time to write reviews, but I just have to throw in my 2 cents after reading all these poor reviews. This book is excellent, people! Five stars, trust me! I'm still dazed and coming back to reality and in fact have started reading the book again. I am a picky and discerning (I like to think) bookworm who has read thousands of books now at age 42, starting at age 3 1/2. I am a movie buff too, and my taste spans a wide variety of genres. I used to be a big Stephen King fan, and now usually stay away from more greusome topics in movies and books, probably a mom/getting older thing, but I was not sorry to read this, although I will skip the movie. Picturing what happens in this book in my mind is enough! The Ruins completely enthralled me even when I first picked it up off the dollar rack at a used bookstore where I got it a couple weeks ago, I remember reading half a page and tossing it in my basket more quickly than the other 5 books I picked up, and saying to my self "I'm so getting this" It did not disappoint. Actually, it was way better than I expected. Gripping, engaging, tragic, tightly written - yes it is long, but the I liked the length, thought it played out well against the slow tortuous fate these small group of unfortunate, and mostly likable, characters stumble into in the hot, buggy jungle on the Yucatan.Read more ›
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Gibbard on March 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There came a point about halfway through Scott Smith`s "The Ruins" when it suddenly struck me how implausibly ridiculous and one-dimensional the plot line had become, and how likely it was that the remainder of the book would consist of just more of the same. At that point, I had to make a decision: either shut the book and accept the loss of several good hours of reading time, or suspend disbelief and soldier on to the bitter end. Eternal optimist that I am, I chose the latter option, hoping that the author would pull a rabbit out of his hat in the remaining 150 pages. I finished the book, but the rabbit never appeared. The only question remaining, for me, is whether the author was toying with his readership by writing a novel deliberately designed to frustrate their expectations (like Michael Haneke's movie "Funny Games," for example), or whether the book just turned out that way, by accident. More on that below.

My complaint about this book does not lie with the writing style, which is good for the genre and reads like a combination of Stephen King and Michael Crichton. My complaint lies with the plot, which (notwithstanding some initial, well-crafted suspense) becomes increasingly one-dimensional and absurd as the novel goes on. Not only does the plot enter a dark, claustrophobic tunnel, the tunnel it enters is not even an interesting tunnel to be in. Worse, in order to set up his characters` predicament, the author relies on a series of implausible contrivances, which become increasingly jarring as the book grinds on to its inevitable denouement.

Here are some examples of what grated on me about this book. (Caution, plot spoilers ahead.
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