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Ruinous Reviews

Stephen King weighs in on Scott Smith's new novel The Ruins in Entertainment Weekly:

The book of the summer....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.

Which is all more than true. What scares me is the USA Today blurb I stumbled across, edited here to protect the innocent:

What Stephen King did for cars with Christine and for dogs with Cujo, Scott Smith does for *** (and yes, it’s horrifying!) in his new thriller.

It's just one little adjective and a noun, but it's a big enough detail to spoil part of the surprise in Smith's riveting novel.

As the July 18th publication date nears, more and more reviews are going to start popping up like... no, I won't give it away, I refuse!

I'm republishing the warning I issued to this very blog on May 18th, in hopes that those who wish to be truly ensnared in Smith's pop masterpiece will tread carefully around reviews and advance word-of-mouth.

Believe me, uncovering the secret is half the fun... and while it's only half (the novel would be first-rate regardless), I have pledged to do everything in my power to keep from spoiling it. Thus, I reissue my earlier post, for the wary and wise...


I was sitting at my desk last week when Georgie bounded up behind me, in that Georgie way of hers, and said, "Bolton, I thought you might want to have a look at this." I swiveled in my chair to see the A.R.C. in her hand. My eyes fell on the author name — Scott Smith — and the byline, "Author of A Simple Plan" — and I had to stop my hands from shooting out and snatching it away from her, Gollum-like, hissing "My precioussssss."

The last thing I noticed as I took the copy with a mildly enthusiastic, "Oooh, thanks" (that took every ounce of self-control I possess) was the title: The Ruins.

I've waited thirteen years for this book. Literally.

I still fondly recall reading A Simple Plan cover to cover in only a handful of sittings, back in college when I was a projectionist at a movie theater (more than a few movies started late, thanks to that book). It was probably the most riveting read I'd encountered up to then — and must still qualify in the top ten even now.

Every few months I'd think back to A Simple Plan and wonder, What happened to Scott Smith?

Well, what happened is his first novel sold 1.5 million copies and he adapted it to film for director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) and his script won an Oscar nomination. My guess? Smith did a bunch of highly paid screenwriting jobs (probably script doctoring, for the most part) and maybe he has a drawer full of half-finished, half-started aborted novels. Or maybe he doesn't. [Actually, this author Q&A answers the question. And Bolton was pretty close. —Ed.]

Whatever kept him busy in the decade and a half since A Simple Plan made its outstanding debut, The Ruins is worth the wait.

I read the entire book over the weekend, basking in the surprisingly warm late-spring sun (I have a sunburnt dome to prove it), and I honestly couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

The Ruins is brilliantly suspenseful, almost unbearable in places, and shares A Simple Plan's mounting intensity. Smith's premise could easily lend itself to some cheesy B-grade genre effort, but he imbues his characters with wonderfully complicated personalities and tangled thoughts that more than once make you think, "Yes... that's what I'd do, too." To Smith's credit, half the time such a thought inspires satisfaction; the other half, abject horror.

My favorite scene in the entire book involves three of the protagonists musing about the stereotypes they'd be reduced to if this story were made into a movie — a sharp and hilariously accurate depiction of how this story would read in the hands of a lesser writer. (And since The Ruins has already been optioned for film by Ben Stiller's production company, here's hoping Smith himself writes the adaptation and follows his own advice.)

What is The Ruins about? Well, that's tricky. Let me tell you everything I knew going in. Here's the publisher's copy:

Eerie, terrifying, unputdownable — Scott Smith's first novel since his best-selling A Simple Plan ("Simply the best suspense novel of this year — hell, of the 1990s." — Stephen King). The Ruins follows two American couples, just out of college, enjoying a pleasant, lazy beach holiday together in Mexico as, on an impulse, they go off with newfound friends in search of one of their group — the young German, who, in pursuit of a girl, has headed for the remote Mayan ruins, site of a fabled archeological dig.

This is what happens from the moment the searchers — moving into the wild interior — begin to suspect that there is an insidious, horrific "other" among them...

Which made me suspect I was heading into The Beach Redux. It turns out I was very, very wrong... but I wouldn't dream of giving away what actually happens. The surprise is part of the pure pleasure of this book.

I'm writing about The Ruins so far in advance (it comes out on July 18th) partly to recommend it wholeheartedly — but more importantly, to warn you: if you have any interest in this novel, in being surprised and delighted and horrified by it, then you should skip every review and read not another word about it from anyone.

Because somebody is going to give the plot away. While I don't imagine that will ruin the reading experience — the book is far too good for that — opening The Ruins with only a vague idea of what it's about is somewhat akin to walking into a screening of Psycho having no idea who Norman Bates is, or that he even has a mother. Trust me: you don't want to spoil it.

And that's all I'm gonna say for now. Except to add that if The Ruins doesn't end up one of my Top Five picks at the end of the year, then this will have been one hell of a year of great books.

÷ ÷ ÷

Chris Bolton co-created the all-ages webcomic Smash, which will soon be published by Candlewick Press, and created the comedy series Wage Slaves. His short story "The Red Room" was published in Portland Noir from Akashic Books.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Portland Noir (Akashic Noir)
    Used Trade Paper $8.50
  2. The Ruins: A Novel
    Used Hardcover $9.95
  3. Jaws New Hardcover $20.00
  4. Christine
    Used Mass Market $3.50

  5. A Simple Plan Used Mass Market $3.95

  6. The Beach: A Novel Used Trade Paper $1.50

2 Responses to "Ruinous Reviews"

    Beth June 27th, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    You have my pledge -- I will avoid all reviews until after I have read the book. I hate spoiler reviews, especially when they don't tell you it's a spoiler. You love it; Stephen King loves it -- that's enough for me!

    Cheryl Baltrip July 28th, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    Scott Smith has a strange obsession with potty functions...over and over and over.
    Disgusting and unnecessary. Distracted more than added to the story. Question: Is it now typical for publishers to post reviews on the back and inside cover, all of which are for the author's PREVIOUS book? Took me a minute at the bookstore to understand that the glowing accolades were not for The Ruins, but for The Simple Plan. Can't say I wasn't forwarned.

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