The End

The spelunkers in
The spelunkers in "The Descent" all go kerplunk (except Shauna Macdonald's character, who goes bonkers). (Lions Gate Films)
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Don't read another word of this if you're planning to read a book called "The Ruins" or see a movie called "The Descent." It's about how they end.

I told you not to look, and yet even as I type, here you still are. The ombudsman's phone number is 202-334-7521. Her name is Deborah.

* * *

It's very August. We're all on a motorboat. It's almost sunset. Here's what I have: the week off, a warm wind, perfect light, time with some of the people I love, and a drinkypoo in a red plastic cup.

And yet I feel just terrible, because I am deeply worried about a group of people I've never met, and who in fact don't even exist. Jeff and Amy, Eric and Stacy, and Mathias, and Demetris (who is called Pablo). All because I spent the day reading "The Ruins."

Thousands of vacations are, at this moment, being similarly marred. "The Ruins," the long-awaited second novel by Scott Smith (who wrote "A Simple Plan" in 1993 and nothing else until now), is currently a bestseller on every list. It's not technically a horror novel, or a mystery. It's not cheaply done, or a trifle, or something you can easily shake off. No one who loved the gloomy "Simple Plan," which was made into an almost-as-excellent movie in 1998, would expect a cheerful ride.

But does everybody have to die in the end?

Even Jeff?

Even Amy?

"The Ruins" is about young tourists in the Yucatan who are trapped on a hill of mysterious vines deep in the jungle. The vines eat humans and other living creatures, including other plant life (more by sucking and osmosis, not so much in a campy, "feed-me-Seymour" way). The vines are lovely, seductive. The vines can mimic voices and laughter and the Nextel ring tone. The tourists in the book (four Americans, a German and a Greek, who all met at a Cancun resort) are stupid, stupid. (They're so stupid that you almost quit around Page 60.) At one point, as they begin to realize how screwed they are, a few of them sit around and compare themselves to doomed slasher-movie archetypes, and try to figure out who is the slut and who is the funny guy and who is the hero and which one will die sooner than the others, and which one will see it through to the arrival of a rescue chopper or some other last-minute reprieve -- because one always escapes, right?

Book critics have said "The Ruins" is abysmally dark and ultimately flawed, and just not the same or as good as "A Simple Plan." The same critics have acknowledged, above all else, its psychologically frightening grip. This was good enough for me; pass the Diet Pepsi and the Coppertone Sport and leave me to it.

"I'm so depressed about the people in this book I'm reading," I say that night, at dinner. "I think the writer is going to have them all die."

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