Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Ruins

I want to write a bit about Scott Smith's new novel, The Ruins, which--according to dopey reviewers on Amazon.com--isn't particularly worth reading. Totally unbelieveable, they cry. Not scary! Not scary enough! But they're wrong. The novel is dark, brutal, almost without any hope. It is merciless.

What I keep reading in one inane review after another--except they aren't reviews at all, but really a few sentences about what the reader thought the book should have been like--is that the plot is unbelievable. I never understand this arguing with the writer thing--I do it myself, but I also know that I have to back off.

Take a brilliant, sad and redemptive novel like Ian McEwan's Saturday. At one point, the plot begins to turn--the burglary--and I remember distinctly saying to myself: Stop! I don't want things to go this way! But I'm not the decision maker, I'm just along for the ride. I have enough respect for McEwan to go with him where he wants to take me. Because one thing always leads to another, and sometimes the only way through is the unpleasant way through. And good writers know this.

How did the democratization of reviewing turn into readers not trusting writers?

It frustrates me--well, it pisses me off--that people look for novels to be so true to life. I think the main tragedy is that people--the general Amazon reviewing public--thought they were going to be eating popcorn and soda pop, but what they got was richer and meatier, bitter and difficult to digest. And they felt cheated.

But that's what I want from art--I want to be surprised. I want to be put somewhere else, somewhere outside of my regular existence, where the colors are a bit more saturated, the characters a bit smarter, or not smarter, and the flowers just too red to be true. I think of Toni Morrison saying that she didn't want her novels to be books you dipped into for fifteen minutes before bed. You know, if you want a slice of life, look out the fucking window.

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