The Ruins (novel)
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Peter Mendelsund|
|July 18, 2006|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3569.M5379759 R85 2006|
Four American tourists — Eric, his girlfriend Stacy, her best friend Amy, and Amy's boyfriend Jeff, a medical student — are vacationing in Mexico. They befriend a German tourist named Mathias and a trio of hard-drinking Greeks who go by the Spanish nicknames Pablo, Juan, and Don Quixote. Mathias convinces "Pablo" (his name is actually Demetris Lambrakis) and the Americans to accompany him as he joins up with his brother Heinrich who had followed a girl he'd met to an archeological dig. The six of them head down to the rural Yucatan in search of Heinrich. The driver of the pick up truck who takes them to the outskirts tells one of the girls that the place to which they are going is 'not good'; the girl does not quite get the message and leaves anyway, despite the driver's offer to take them to a different and new place. Near a Mayan village, they discover a disguised trail which leads to a large hill covered in vines and surrounded by bare earth. The group approach the hill, ignoring the warnings of a young boy who had followed them to the village. The boy soon returns with armed adults who force the group to stay on the vine-covered hill. Among the underbrush, they discover the body of Heinrich, already overgrown with vines.
They realize that the vines contain an acidic sap that burns their hands after they pulled the vines away from Heinrich's body. At the top of the hill is a camp with tents, a campfire and windlass and rope that leads down a mine shaft. Much of the camp is overgrown with the same acidic vines. Hearing the ring of a cell phone from the bottom of the shaft, they use the rope to lower Pablo down in an attempt to retrieve it. However, the acid from the vines has weakened the rope, which snaps, sending Pablo falling down the shaft. His back is broken and the group raises him on a makeshift backboard.
Jeff, who quickly emerges as the most level-headed and action-oriented of the group, explores the hill and discovers that the Mayans have formed a perimeter around the entire hill, not approaching, but always watching him and ready to shoot them dead with bow and arrow. He also discovers a warning sign made by someone else, which has been pulled into the underbrush of vines.
That night, Eric, who had received a wound on his leg while rescuing Pablo, awakes to find one of the vines curled around his leg and inserting itself in his wound.
Jeff surmises that the Mayans are afraid of the vines. They salted the earth around the hill to prevent their spread and are now intent on killing anyone who strays onto the hill. Already, spores from the vines have embedded themselves in the group's clothes. He also realizes that they will die soon without any food or water.
Jeff and Amy return to the mine shaft to find the cell phone. After almost falling into a pit, Jeff realizes that the cell phone noise is being made by the vines. The plants can imitate sounds made on the hill. As they climb back up, they hear the plants laughing at them.
Eric becomes convinced that the vines have infested his body and attempts to cut himself to get them out. That night, he, Amy, and Stacy get drunk and nastily criticize everyone. Later, the vines repeat their criticisms, especially those of Jeff. Amy and Jeff fight and Amy leaves the tent drunk. Jeff ignores the sound of her vomiting and calling his name. The next morning they discover that Amy is dead; the sounds they heard were of the vines suffocating her. They seal Amy's body in a sleeping bag, intending to bury her, but that night they hear her calling Jeff's name. Seeing the bag moving, they open it to discover it full of writhing vines which have eaten Amy's body.
Jeff, taking advantage of a torrential rainstorm, heads down the hill and attempts to escape but is shot by the Mayans. The vines pull his body back into the underbrush.
The next morning, Stacy and Mathias go to check on Jeff. Increasingly disturbed, Eric begins cutting himself in an effort to remove the vines, which he believes have infested his body. Hearing the vines telling them that Eric is dead, Mathias and Stacey run back up the hill to find him bloody, but alive. Eric angrily confronts Mathias, and accidentally stabs the other man with his knife. He asks Stacy to kill him, which, after much pleading, she does.
Alone, Stacy heads to the bottom of the hill and seats herself on the path leading to the top. She calmly slits her wrists and waits to die so that her body will be a warning to anyone else who comes. As she loses consciousness, the vines reach out and pull her off the path into the underbrush.
A few days later, the other two Greeks, with some Brazilian tourists in tow, find the trail. A little girl, who is acting as a sentinel, as the little boy on the bike was, runs back to the village, but the new tourists are already halfway up the hill, calling for Pablo, before the men on horseback arrive.
According to an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the book started as a trial run after a period when the novelist had concentrated on writing the screenplay for A Simple Plan. "It went in stops and starts," Smith told journalist Regis Behe. "I would give up on it, thinking it wouldn't work...With The Ruins I really just started writing. I had a general sense of the story. I knew how I wanted it to end, but all the steps to get there... I just wrote it. I didn't plan it, and, obviously, that had major repercussions that carried through the story." Smith added that he never traveled to Mexico, where the book is set; he merely read a few travel books and did some Internet research.
Entertainment Weekly reviewer Gillian Flynn gave The Ruins an A−, calling it "Thomas Harris meets Poe in a decidedly timely story," continuing, "Smith has tapped into our anxieties about global warming, lethal weather, supergerms—our collective fear that nature is finally fighting back—and given us a decidedly organic nightmare."
Michiko Kakutani, writing for The New York Times, said, "As in his debut novel, A Simple Plan (Knopf, 1993), Mr. Smith is concerned with what happens to a group of ordinary people when they are suddenly placed in a decidedly extraordinary situation. In that earlier book, evil turns out to be something that lurks deep within his heroes' greedy hearts. In The Ruins, evil is something randomly stumbled upon in the jungle." Kakutani was unimpressed, comparing the novel unfavorably with Little Shop of Horrors and saying, "The Ruins, however, isn't a comedy or a musical. It seems meant to be a straight-ahead thriller, with some bloody set pieces lifted from the horror genre thrown in for extra chills: you know, grisly, up-close shots of people having their legs chewed up or being choked to death by demonic forces. Whatever humor is produced by the story's Cruel Talking Plants appears to be entirely inadvertent."
In Salon, Laura Miller warned, "Don't start this book if you're especially weak of stomach or nerves, and above all don't pick it up if you're not willing to tolerate some deviation from the usual conventions of thrillers and horror stories. Not everything will be explained to you, and not everything will turn out in the tidy, reassuring ways to which we've all become accustomed. The Ruins is like all great genre fiction in its irresistible storytelling momentum, but in its lack of mercy, it's more like real life."
Reviewer Tony Buchsbaum found himself "blown away by the author's crisp, clearly-focused way with a scene. He paints each one like a great artist, yet also holds back, sharing only the bits and pieces of detail that you need to make the scene your own." He adds,
The rest, as it turns out, is pretty fantastic. If you don't want to take my word for it, ask author Stephen King, who has called The Ruins the book of the summer... Stephen King nailed it. The Ruins really is the book of the summer. But not because it'll scare the bejesus out of you—it will—and not because it's crafted so perfectly—it is—and not even because it'll draw you in, page by page, closing tighter and tighter around you, until your mouth and eyes are all O-shaped and your mind is just about unable to conceive of the fact that you've made it out alive. The Ruins is the book of the summer because, put simply, it's so good that it'll ruin every other book's chances.
Stephen King made the comment in a column for Entertainment Weekly, writing, "The Book of the Summer: That would be The Ruins, by Scott Smith, last heard from in 1993 (A Simple Plan, later filmed by Sam Raimi from Smith's script). No quietly building, Ruth Rendell-style suspense here; Smith intends to scare the bejabbers out of you, and succeeds. There are no chapters and no cutaways—The Ruins is your basic long scream of horror. It does for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for New England beaches in 1975."
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said that the novel "is, superficially, the perfect summertime beach read. Between the lines of The Ruins, however, is a dark, sometimes scathing, social commentary." The reviewer added that it "has a strange duality in that it directly pays homage to Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, and indirectly to The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The story of four young Americans caught in a deadly situation on a trip to Mayan ruins in Mexico, it builds a tension that Serling excelled at, created from knowing that a situation is spinning out of control in ways beyond the characters' comprehension."
- The Ruins (2008)
- Behe, Regis (July 23, 2006). "Author infuses The Ruins with Social Commentary". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Flynn, Gillian (July 19, 2006). "The Ruins: Review". New York City: Entertainment Weekly.
- Kakutani, Michiko (July 18, 2006). "A Mexican Vacation, Interrupted by Killer Plants". The New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
- Miller, Laura (June 19, 2006). "The Ruins: A lazy Mexican vacation turns sinister—and grisly—when a group of middle-class tourists become trapped at an archaeological site". Salon. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
- Buchsbaum, Tony (July 2006). "Vine With Me". January Magazine. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
- King, Stephen (July 19, 2006). "Stephen King's Summer Book Awards". New York City: Entertainment Weekly.