Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Ruins

An early resolution (well-pre-New Year's) was to read more this year, which really means reading, period. So I've pledged to take advantage of time I know I have by getting back in the habit and tackling some books. Unfortunately, I started with "The Ruins," the new novel by Scott Smith, who wrote the more or less perfect thriller "A Simple Plan," also the source of the excellent film of the same name. Smith's adaptation of his own novel earned him an Oscar nod several years ago.

That was the last anyone heard from Smith, but a barrage of hype, good reviews and a rave from Stephen King (whose opinion I trust, even if I don't generally like his writing) made me pick up the new one at the library. And you know what? It sucks. It's repetative, it's ridiculolus, and it goes nowhere. It's a slim short story premise padded out to a sadistic (in every sense) 300 pages. It's pulpy to the extreme, yet takes itself too seriously. It's -- and would-be readers, I'm giving away the whole thing here -- about a handful of vacationing college kids in Mexico, trapped on a mound of dirt and surrounding by sentient, flesh-eating vines.

Yes, you read that right. Killer, thinking, carnivorous vines. Oh, and they sometimes talk, too. And they're inexplicably mean.

So all they do is sweat, sometimes fight and wait around to die or be eaten, while these fast, smart, devious, malicious plant-monsters wait for ... what? Why don't they just eat them? Oh, right. Because then the book would only be a third as long.

It reads like a humorless take on the same ground covered by the gross-out horror flick "Cabin Fever" a few years ago, minus any hint of cleverness. It also reads like - surprise, surprise - one of Stephen King's early short stories, but stttrrrrrrreeeetched out well past the plot's brittle breaking point.

Smith must have let the movie biz get to his head, or at least his wallet, as Ben Stiller is among those thanked in "The Ruins," conspicuous alongside relatively anonymous friends, families and editors. Why? Because Stiller's production company allegedly optioned the rights to the film version of "The Ruins" before the book was even published, which is dubious to the extreme (see also: the diminishing returns of Thomas Harris). It does, however, explain why such a simple, silly premise of a novel got stretched out much longer than the story could support. Not that that ever stopped any Hollywood hack from making one of King's short stories into a feature, but I guess Smith just wanted to make their job a little easier.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you read any of the book by Stirling such as Dies The Fire? His books are Sci/Fi/Alternate History and Mike turned Jim and myself on to them. They are really quite fascinating, especially seeing how people can survive and quite successfully. I highly recommend them.

Aunt Susie

4:59 PM  

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