It is several days later and I’m still picking up the pieces and putting my reading self back together.
Because reading Ruby just ripped it all apart.
To call it a difficult read is putting it lightly.
Devastating perhaps. The kind of read where the story swallows you up whole and spits you out and then you’re left reeling from all the hurt and pain and the knowledge that you can’t do anything about it. Except to read on. And hope.
But when we first meet Ruby Bell, there doesn’t seem to be any hope left:
“She wore gray like rain clouds and wandered the red roads in bared feet. Calluses thick as boot leather. Hair caked with mud. Blackened nails as if she had scratched the slate of night. Her acres of legs carrying her, arms swaying like a loose screen. Her eyes the ink of sky, just before the storm.”
The people of Liberty Township “walked a curved path to avoid her door”. But one day Ephram Jennings takes a cake to her door. And not just any cake but his sister Celia’s white lay angel cake, made with twelve eggs and her own butter, “so sweet it crusted at its crumbling edges, so light little craters of air circled its surface, so moist it was sure, as was always the case, to cling to the spaces between his sister’s long three-pronged silver fork.”
Now Ephram is the kind of person you wouldn’t avoid completely, more like one you would forget. Brought up mostly by his sister Celia (he even calls her Mama), he has hidden in her skirts for many of his 45 years.
But something compels him to do something different this day. And everything changes.
Reading the synopsis of the book now (here at Goodreads), I realise I might not have picked up this book. It was Andi’s review that made me sit up and consider reading Ruby. Andi called Ruby a “confronting book”. And it is. While I try to read across a variety of genres (SF, Fantasy, Crime, Mystery, Literary, YA etc), this was still a very difficult read. The abuse that Ruby suffers – physical, emotional, spiritual even for she is haunted by something evil – is so very brutal and gut-wrenching. The filth she lives in is stomach-turning. But what propels the reader through all this is the beautifully written story, the fight in Ruby, the sweetness and devotion of Ephram and his willingness (finally!) to stand up for himself. And hope. And how Bond brings everything together and reveals their histories.
It is a challenging read. But Ruby is undeniably a force to be reckoned with.
Writer and educator Cynthia Bond has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles for over fifteen years. Cynthia attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism on an academic scholarship, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Cynthia acted for many years in in New York with the Negro Ensemble Company. A PEN Rosenthal Fellow, Cynthia founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. At present, Bond teaches at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.
I received this book from the Crown Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.