Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby, "the kind of pretty it hurt to look at," has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city--the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village--all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother. When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby Bell finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town's dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.
Full of life, exquisitely written, and suffused with the pastoral beauty of the rural South, "Ruby" is a transcendent novel of passion and courage. This wondrous page-turner rushes through the red dust and gossip of Main Street, to the pit fire where men swill bootleg outside Bloom's Juke, to Celia Jennings's kitchen where a cake is being made, yolk by yolk, that Ephram will use to try to begin again with Ruby. Utterly transfixing, with unforgettable characters, riveting suspense, and breathtaking, luminous prose, "Ruby" offers an unflinching portrait of man's dark acts and the promise of the redemptive power of love.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-01-27
- Reviewer: Staff
Bond’s debut novel is difficult to read for its graphic and uncomfortable portrayal of racism, sexual violence, and religious intolerance in East Texas in the 1960s and ’70s. Bond is a gifted storyteller, able to make the reader squirm with anger and unease as she vividly depicts how easily bad things happen to good people. Ruby Bell is a middle-aged black woman living a feral existence in the woods of Liberty Township, a poor black community where the intolerant and superstitious inhabitants treat her with disgust as a social outcast and an unrepentant sinner because she’s a prostitute. Ephram Jennings grew up with Ruby and has been in love with her for years, despite her reputation. He too is shunned and ridiculed—because of his feelings for her. Their romance remains sad and painfully one-sided, regardless of Ephram’s tender good intentions. Even his doting older sister, Celia, is embarrassed and ashamed by Ephram’s behavior, and her deep, visceral hatred of Ruby goes back decades. Flashbacks reveal why Ruby chose a life of prostitution and why Celia hates her, as well as why Ephram struggles to get out from under his sister’s influence. All of the family drama is set amid an ingrained culture of sexual exploitation of women and children, racial brutality, and the community’s passive acceptance that these things are facts of life. This is a grim tale, well told, but there’s no comfort in these pages—just tragedy and heartache. (Apr.)