Sup. Been busy. And sick. Deal.
I live in Canada, a.k.a. the “Great White North” (ha). There are certain things I expect from my amazing country. Things like freedom and doughnuts that are cheap, plentiful, and delicious. I also expect not to burn to a crisp. What the hell, Canada? What the hell? It’s hellishly hot where I am, and bloody sunny. It’s wretched.
Now, despite it being hotter than Michael Fassbender in a sauna, I was craving something scary to read. Some people might think horror is better suited to colder, darker days. Not I, amigos. In my experience, you can divide people into two groups. There are people who like–nay, need to be scared, who seek out terror the way a cat will find every newly washed black pencil skirt in the house and take a nap on it even though there are a hundred freaking blankets lying around the house just for his nibs to rest his furry little bum on– ehem. And then there are those who will do everything in their power to avoid being scared, people who don’t understand the thrill of a ghost story, the educational value of zombpocalypse movies, or the sheer hilarity of jumping out of a closet and scaring the living daylights out of your nearest and dearest. Me? I’m in the first camp, perhaps because my birth was precipitated by my mother’s timely viewing of Aliens. (Three weeks overdue, and whaddyaknow, all it takes is Sigourney Weaver and some unsubtle motherhood metaphors to finally get me out into the cruel world.)
Anyway. So I had a dilemma. I didn’t want a book that felt cold – you know how some books feel a certain way, right? Like I wasn’t going to go reread The Shining and get all jealous of the Torrances enjoying the frigid Colorado winter, or tackle Shirley Jackson, whose books always feel autumny to me. I needed a hot scary story, something scorching and horrible, something that clawed the way heat does. It’s harder to find than you might think. Luckily, I am a sometimes librarian, and good at finding stuff that is hard to find. Hence, this week’s read, Scott Smith’s The Ruins.
Let the synopsis dancing commence!
Four privileged, secretly broken, and likeable while also unlikeable (this is possible) American college students vacationing in Mexico decide to discard every shred of common sense and go on a day-trip to an archeological dig in the jungle. Jeff, Amy, Stacy and Eric are bored, because hot Mexicans and cold beers bore some people (seriously?) and also because each of them is secretly deeply unhappy, as only middle class American white kids can be. They decide to join their new best-buddy, mysterious German hottie Matthias, on a short excursion into the jungle to find Matthias’s brother, who was a straight-up, Goethe-style romantic that followed the archeologist who stole his heart to her dig-site. Spookiness and scares and a whole lot of demonic horticulture ensue.
All I’ll say is this: plants will freak you out after you finish this book. If they don’t already. I mean, I’m a vegetarian, which I guess should mean I have a liking for the greenery, but damn, did you know that plants have memories? And communication networks? It’s terrifying.
It’s difficult to review this book without giving away much of the plot, which I really don’t want to do because it is truly an excellent, wholly surprising story. The ending is perfect, I don’t care what the GoodReads haters say. (I’m actually surprised this book elicits so many negative reviews. I can’t understand it.) The events of the story are unexpected, original, and addictive. This is another book that kept me up past the witching hour.
Smith’s writing is even more impressive than the story itself. It’s a different style than I’m used to, very stark, honest, and weirdly poetic. I kept underlining and circling and dog-earing pages, but when I had to restrain myself at one point from highlighting an entire page, I just gave up. It’s all amazing. Stacy’s emotions after having her hat stolen, for example; Smith articulates each miniscule shade of feeling, from confusion to surprise to anger to shame, so perfectly that you’ll feel your own cheeks flush when Stacy’s do. At least, I did.
The shifts between the four American characters’ perspectives are rapid and seamless, and each voice is distinct and sympathetic. Even though I knew I should despise these kids, I couldn’t stop myself from sympathizing with them. Smith makes a deliberate choice to tell the story only from the four Americans’ points of view. Matthias, the German, is aloof, an enigma that both intrigues and repels the Americans. It’s incredibly frustrating and deviously clever of Smith to keep Matthias’s thoughts and most of his emotions a mystery, because it draws the reader in even more. We observe Matthias, and to a lesser degree, “Pablo” the Greek, just as Jeff, Amy, Stacy and Eric do, and like them, we ultimately know of him only what he chooses to reveal. Permit me to brush off my first-year philosophy and observe that the reader’s reaction to Matthias is a perfect example of the solipsistic school of thought; one can only ever truly know oneself.
Herp derp derp.
(I obviously had a serious book crush on Matthias. I have a weakness for the Teutons and their pragmatism and their efficiency. Jah, ich liebe Matthias.)
I should probably note that a film adaptation was made with that cute lizardy dude from The Black Donnellys (do you remember that show?) and the girl who played Lydia Bennett and also one of those elfin Canadian twin brother actors. Also Joe Anderson, who is yum. While it was not completely terrible, and actually pretty damn good for a scary movie, which, sadly, tend be pretty shite, I have to say it: the book was better. Way better. And quite different as well, at least as far as a certain German goes.
Whoa. I just googled “scary plants” and now I am a little scarred. Don’t google “scary plants.” Yikes.
Best line(s): (A longer one, this time. Matthias and Jeff are talking about whether there’s heaven and hell, and what comes after death. Then Matthias proves he is both sexy and smart, and me typing that last bit also demonstrates why I am incapable of sustaining relationships with men who do not exist between the covers of a book.)
“Always so desperate to be prepared.” He reached out, gave Jeff’s knee a pat. “It will be whatever it is, no? Nothing, something – our believing one thing or another will matter not at all in the end.” (p. 442)
Rating: Four out of five irresponsible American twenty-something tourists. Damn, guys, haven’t you seen Turistas? That movie wasn’t a movie. It was a freaking lesson. TO NEVER LEAVE THE RESORT. EVER.