Mass Market Paperback, $7.99
Reviewed by Nickolas Cook
Upon seeing the extraordinary blurb given by Stephen King to Scott Smith’s The Ruins, also the well-known author of A Simple Plan (1993), I was dubious. But having trusted Mr. King’s judgment in the past, I’ve found some great reads, and added some staple authors to my favorites list.
For those of you who haven’t seen the blurb, it says, “The best horror novel of the new century.”
That’s a hell of a boast, and one I’d caveat with the fact that he clearly hasn’t been keeping track of such authors as Gary Braunbeck, Robert Dunbar, Kealen Patrick Burke, or James Wrath White. But that being said: I’ll readily add my praise for The Ruins. Not because I agree that it’s “the best horror novel of the new century,” but because hardly anyone in this genre is writing books like this anymore.
In a genre that’s way too self aware, and suffers not a little from its own self destructive short sightedness, this is the kind of book that steps outside the current stifling boundaries and returns to a place that Shirley Jackson once mined so well. And my comparison to the late, great Mrs. Jackson isn’t flippant, folks. For those of you well versed in the classics, in and outside the genre, you’ll probably catch the same character parallels as I did. Scott Smith uses a similar (deceptively) simple craft to create his characters and then turn them loose upon themselves. In his review, Mr. King draws equally valid comparisons to Frank Norris and a slight one to Heart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Conrad. Both comparisons strike the mark as well.
The story’s simple enough: Four young American tourists follow a fellow traveler deep into the jungle to search for his lost brother. When they stumble upon a seemingly quaint village, they find themselves face to face with an ancient unforgiving evil, and must fight for their lives. Most of the horror in The Ruins is about a slow death – one brought about more by the survivors’ inability to accept their reality than by the … well, you’ll have to read the books to find out more about the nature of their particular antagonist. It’s a story about physical and mental deterioration, a spiral into a dark place where the veneer of civilization and logic is scraped down to the bone, where only you can save yourself, a frightening place for those who may not be able to survive without someone to keep them alive. To tell more would be to give too much away and to spoil a good story would be the greatest horror of all.
For the readers, there’s the story’s mostly breakneck pace will keep you going, and Smith’s unflinching appraisal of human weakness at its worst.
For the writers out there…
While I’m not proposing Smith’s The Ruins is classic literature, I will say it is possibly a guide for those horror writers who want to escape the ever-tightening genre strictures – strictures perhaps unconsciously created to cater to the small press fringe readership. Without meaning to, Smith has helped to point out some of the basic weaknesses in our own take on the genre. My guess is he wasn’t inspired by a movie or video game to write this dark nasty edged novel.