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THE RUINS by Scott Smith


by Scott Smith

Pub Date: July 20th, 2006
ISBN: 1-4000-4387-5
Publisher: Knopf

Nature turns evil in this novel of horror and suspense involving reckless young Americans and a couple of fellow travelers trapped in the wilds of remote Mexico.

This is the first novel from Smith since his 1993 debut, A Simple Plan, which had greater popular impact in its 1998 movie adaptation, which earned him an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. This material might also prove riveting on the big screen, but as a novel, lacks narrative momentum, taking too long to reach its resolution. Two young couples on the verge of big changes (med school, career, geography) enjoy a last fling in Mexico before assuming the responsibilities of adulthood. The two young women are best friends, though one is as cautious as the other is careless. Their two male partners are connected mainly through the women. As happens on vacation, they develop quick friendships, in this case with a taciturn German who speaks English and a trio of fun-loving Greeks who don’t. The German’s brother disappears with a beautiful woman to join an archaeological dig into Mayan ruins, miles removed from urban civilization. As an adventure, the four Americans and one of the Greeks join the German in search of his brother. Once they arrive, though, they fear it will be impossible for them to leave, partly because of the armed Mayans surrounding the site, partly because of the bodies in detailed states of decomposition that litter the area, but mainly because of some mysterious vines with amazing powers that expand as the novel progresses. While these tourists are isolated in the wilderness for many, many (many) pages, the novel shifts from a horror story of graphic gore to a more interesting psychological thriller. If character is destiny, the major suspense lies with which one of them, if any, will survive.

A compelling set-up and provocative premise, but what should be a page-turner succumbs to a plodding pace.