It’s that time of year again–when the poison ivy starts to pop up in all kinds of places and I’m out there with a spray can of my own poison trying to take it down. Every time, it reminds me of The Ruins by Scott Smith.
I picked up this title on audio, I admit mostly because of the title. As an archaeology buff, I’m attracted to the whole creepy ruins where mysterious things happen trope. Yes, it’s a cliché, but once in a while that’s fun. And yes, this blog will contain spoilers! However, the book has been out since 2008, so if you were that keen to read it, you probably already have. Also, this blog will contain ranting–but this author has reviews from Stephen King, and about 1000 other readers, so I don’t think that my opinion will damage his reputation or even seriously piss him off.
Basic premise: a group of college kids on vacation in Mexico go to a distant jungle location to find the brother of a new friend. The brother is an archaeologist who has been incommunicado for too long, and they’re worried. When they get there, bad things ensue. The natives try to discourage them, the path is hidden, the camp at the top of the vine-covered hill is abandoned–and there are sinister mounds among the vines. (By this time, I am thinking, okay, but where are the ruins I was promised? There’s a relatively modern mineshaft. That’s it.)
So the vine turns out to be not only carnivorous, but also intelligent, capable of mimicking voices, and basically downright evil. Also, highly susceptible to fire. But that doesn’t matter to our heroes, who all get eaten–tho some of them get shot by the natives before they get eaten. And the vine takes down all of the signs they try to post warning people against coming. Because it can read, apparently, and it knows how people think. But I’m not going to rant about the highly improbable nature of this diabolical kudzu–whether it’s an alien being in disguise or not. I’m not even going to rant about the fact that, in a book called The Ruins, there basically are NO RUINS.
No. What gets my goat, even after all these years, is what the heck the natives were thinking. They have to live with this thing in their back yard, this monstrous mound of flesh-eating flowers. They try to keep people away, they hide the trail, they burn a ring around the hill to keep the vine contained. Hey–wait a minute! They BURN A RING AROUND IT to keep it contained. Why the *&!!*##* don’t they burn the WHOLE THING?
We don’t know. You see, the natives don’t speak any English, and none of our protagonists speaks decent Spanish. So either these natives are malicious bastards, or the author didn’t think through his plot. He wanted to set up this creepy vine thing, but on some level, he had to explain why it hadn’t taken over the world yet–0r at least, taken over Mexico.
So the natives have the means to destroy the evil, they have no reason not to destroy the evil, and the only reason it hasn’t happened seems to be that the author wanted to write this book. If the natives just burned the thing, there wouldn’t be any book, any Stephen King endorsements, any movie deal . . . It’s a plot hole you could drive a semi-truck through.
As I spray my poison ivy, and think on this book, I work through the plots of my own books, and ask if I’m missing any similar holes. Is there a creeping vine that will take root in my reader’s brain when they discover that I’m frantically trying to make them look away from the obvious solution? If there is an obvious solution to the primary conflict in your plot, and you don’t use it, that’s a problem. You can’t count on suspense, pacing or morbid curiosity to keep the reader from noticing. It behooves the wise writer to get there first.