|The Ruins Author: Scott Smith
Publisher: Knopf (2006)
Ah, so you prefer your journey unspoiled, content to let each surprise unfold in its own due time. You’re like Smith’s free-spirited character Stacy, who lives life to the fullest, enjoying every moment while leaving the planning to others.
Of course, Stacy also risks a nasty Mexican sunburn when her hat and sunglasses are stolen right from under (well, above) her nose in a crowded train station…but her joie de vivre is still commendable.
When Stacy and the others – her boyfriend Eric, her best friend Amy, Amy’s “Dudley Do-Right” boyfriend Jeff, and a Greek who calls himself Pablo – follow their new German friend Mathias into the Mayan jungle, none of them is prepared for the disaster that awaits them.
The premonitions are everywhere, from the cab driver who tells them, “This is a bad place” and begs to bring them back to their resort, to the mysterious Mayan villager holding an eerily silent infant who might just be dead.
As the tension mounts, so does the reader’s looming sense of dread, and Smith pays it off with a vengeance. Having drawn his characters’ personalities with quick, deft strokes, Smith then uses their various quirks to ensnare them in a noose of their own making. Trapped in a desperate situation that demands teamwork and clear thinking, the group instead begins infighting and indulges in coping mechanisms that only make matters worse.
Whereas “A Simple Plan” was a fairly straightforward thriller, the squeamish should be advised that, though it has elements of both, “The Ruins” is more horror novel than thriller. Certainly there was graphic violence in Smith’s debut, but with “The Ruins” Smith doesn’t just up the violence ante; he goes all in. No less a gore connoisseur than Stephen King has gone on record praising “The Ruins” – and it’s not because he likes Smith’s typeface.
That said, the trauma this group endures is as much psychological as physical, and Smith excels at pushing each character’s psyche to the snapping point. It’s what happens after that that gives the story its deliciously venomous bite.
I’d say more…but that might spoil your fun. Enjoy your stroll through “The Ruins”…and I hope you find your hat and sunglasses.