Scott Smith, the author of the best-selling novel A Simple Plan is back at long last with his latest creation, the aptly titled The Ruins. Four friends - Jeff, Stacy, Amy, and Eric - are vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. There they meet a German tourist named Mathias who convinces them to go with him on his quest to find his brother, Heinrich, who took off with a new girlfriend toward some Mayan ruins. Telling anymore would ruin the experience of reading or listening to this book.
I get the Hitchcockian point-of-view of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, but the characters are so vanilla and the plot so preposterous that The Ruins simply falls apart under its own weight. There really is no emotional anchor; the characters all seem generic, dull, and rather boring. During several brief moments it seems possible to get into a particular character, or the story, or even a situation in the story, but it never materializes. It only stayed a brief moment, never really hooking the listener all the way. There is no one to hate and no one to really love or even root for. I was completely ambivalent about the plot and the characters’ plight. Perhaps Smith’s written word is a completely different experience, but the audio performance by Patrick Wilson is utterly wooden. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with Smith’s style. It worked beautifully in A Simple Plan, but in a story that dips in the Stephen King arena of the supernatural, it simply doesn’t work as well.
As for the gore? WellIf you haven’t picked up a newspaper or watched the news or taken a gander at any of the popular police procedurals/forensic shows on television of late, you could say that it is gory. But it’s nowhere near the level of evisceration seen in other literary works such as American Psycho or Exquisite Corpse. Given the rash of slasher flicks that have hit theaters in recent years, this could be considered tame in comparison but appropriate for the story Smith is trying to tell. I would file the “gore” in this book under gritty realism: a dire situation causing the reader to question what they might do themselves in similar circumstances. That gritty realism is about all The Ruins has going for it. Despite how some might feel about any style or genre of film, book or art, there is always a skill involved no matter how high- or low-brow that form might be considered. Simply put – Smith is no King.