The Ruins

by Scott Smith

A lot of people hate this book, and many others love it. There’s very little middle ground.

We have social and personal deconstruction here, mirrored with literal deconstruction, and it works horrifyingly so. It’s visceral and mean but not grotesque, and the book plays out like a movie.

A small group of young travelers is stranded on a hill in the Mayan jungle. The base of the hill ringed with death, the travelers seek to survive with minimal supplies while a vicious jungle attacks them. It is alive with no creatures or insects or birds, or anything but the vines.

A lush, graphic death meets the group as dehydration and heat suffocate the visitors during the day as they’re trapped by the writhing greens while the injuries mount. During the night it further devolves as our characters occasionally have brief respite to consider their fates and their newest horrors. The next days get worse, and worse, as the visitors fall to the horrors of the vines and themselves, questioning each other, questioning inward, questioning our constructs, and there’s a Rorschach in here somewhere.

At heart its heart the book may be meta-horror. It knows. You know. Eventually, the characters know as well. Clear pictures of the scenes are presented throughout, never wavering, and the author has us locked in place purposely. This was actually something special, and it’s one of the subtler areas of stories that aren’t often realized. Not like this. In recent memory Joe Hill did this a few times with NOS4A2, bringing some scenes into stark, frightening, crystal-clear reality. The Ruins finds this level early and maintains it throughout, and it’s most pleasurable to be locked in place by a story. Many of us are after exactly that experience.

Having had the exceptional pleasure of reading A Simple Plan and The Ruins back to back over a few days, it’s possible to develop a rare view of Smith’s ability to visually cement a scene. For those who haven’t read either, please be encouraged to pick up both immediately, reading them back to back and fairly quickly. You won’t be able to help it–you’ll see the clarity of picture the author has drawn in each.

The Ruins is not a tale for the faint, but this is not an audience where that applies. If you haven’t read it, read it. It’s neither a short nor long book, but it’s over quickly. Dirty and mean, it’s unnerving and cynical and rendered in 4k.

5 stars

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