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The Ruins Hardcover – July 18, 2006
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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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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There were a few reasons for this, imo. It's not a short book, and yet there are practically no time-jumps, such that the entire book takes places during the ~72 hours of the characters' ordeal, which is: six friends who enter the Yucatan jungle to look for a brother who has gone missing. This minute-by-minute narration, from alternating POVs, really drags you down into the predicament. And yet the pace never lags.
Also: my favorite authors are students of their own thought patterns, of the irrational, less-than-split-second emotions that drift through all of us like weather systems. Smith is excellent at capturing these--his inhabitation of his characters is so authentic, so exactly what would happen in this scenario. There are no distractions because of unlikely, forced plot events, or caricature characters.
Smith especially pays attention to those moments we've all had when we tell ourselves to say something, or take an action, and we don't, and the moment of opportunity passes. Or the moments when we want to protest, but remain silent in favor of group cohesion. Or the moments, (I especially relate to this as a traveler), when you realize that you're outside of your comfort zone and need to get back quickly. For instance, you're lost, tired, and dehydrated, and you've noticed that there are no taxicabs in the area. I've been there a hundred times on different trips, nine times out of ten you finally walk into that clearing where a well-lit restaurant, or taxi queue, or the person you're supposed to meet, awaits you, and all of the fears you've been harboring until then just disappear. Of course everything was going to work out! This book is about that tenth time.
Finally, I think that in most horror novels, you get a sense for whether the ending is going to be happy or sad. I was really guessing up until the end in this one. The ending made sense, of course, but it could easily have been different. Fantastic.
I was a bit annoyed that both of the female characters were absolutely useless: spacey, in denial, childish, etc. But to be fair, every character had his or her own personal failure which ended up being the key to his/her undoing, or struggle.
If you're a horror fan and you haven't read this, you need to.
So what about now? After reading it again (a third time), i can completely understand why i liked it in the first place... but at the same time I was disappointed. I feel that i could rate this book a 2 star, or a 5 star and be fine with either rating. SO i am going to settle at 4.
The Ruins follows a group of vacationers on a visit to an archaeological site. The book has a very slow build up before finally going nuclear ~75% through. Reading this book purely as a horror novel, the suspenseful 25%-75%, followed by the insane (!!) 75%-100% make for an enjoyable read. Is the writing great? No. Is the first section of the book boring as f***? Yes.
So. Are you tired of boring, same-old-ending novels? Want something that will shock you? This one is for you.
+ The night dispute/fight and the aftermath was perfect. I just kept thinking of comics that showed a shocked character with an '!' above his head. In this case, that would be me.
+ Characters. The characters might be stereotypical, but the book uses them in interesting ways. It takes the stereotypes, turns them inside out, and then dumps them on the ground.
+ The villain. Lets just take a minute to appreciate the antagonist in this book. If you really think about it, it is 100x as creepy as any alien/monster. The slow creeping/avoid direct conflict is awesome.
- Writing. It sucks. First 25% of the book is a chore to read. Then the book is just 'OK'.
- Plot holes. No explanations of any sort.
- Bloody/barbaric. I was slightly nauseous after finishing the book.
Note: Some characters do die. If characters ending upsets you, then STAY AWAY.
This story is graphic, detailed, terrible, mysterious, yet hopeful. I read half of it the first night I had it and finished it the second night. I didn't want to put it down. Now that I've finished it, I feel sad that it is over and I want more.
The missing star is because Smith's writing varies in level of detail and clarity, it felt like maybe he was rushing through the scene to get to the next. There were a few points where I had to re-read the section multiple times to get a feeling for what was really happening. Overall his writing does not lack in gory details and I appreciate that.
Most recent customer reviews
The Ruins is a gripping novel absolutely scary as hell in Mexico four friends take the wrong turn as they discovered ruins they can not escaped there is...Read more