Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Book Review | Ruby by Cynthia Bond

RubyRuby by Cynthia Bond
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ruby tells the story of Ruby Bell and Ephram Jennings, they first meet when they are children and we come back to them as adults. Despite the heart that somebody mistakenly decided to put on this spine – this isn't a romance! A love story yes, but most definitely NOT a romance. Ephram has never forgotten Ruby and he’s loved her his whole life. He eventually comes to a point in his life when he decides to act on his feelings, to try and help her out of the situation she’s in and the story begins there. I was more than a little taken aback when I’d been reading for a while, the blurb didn't indicate at all just how much violence is in the book, obviously, I saw the heart, thought ‘right a romance’, but an angsty one, the blurb mentions her confronting her ‘devastating violence of her past’. So I figured Ruby would be working some shit out. Oh boy.

This was a difficult book to read – not just because of the continued, if not daily abuse that Ruby experiences, but also the extreme racism, domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty. There are some very detailed passages that I had trouble reading and I really struggled with those. I feel like I have a fairly high tolerance for things like that but this was too much to the point that I didn't feel it was necessary, I certainly don’t deny that there are children who are horribly abused, that experience this, but for all this to happen to Ruby was too much. There was one really horrible scene when I was almost stopped reading. I was done. Ultimately I continued because I needed to know what happened. It also helped that I had a couple of buffer books that I read at the same time. There were also parts of this novel that suspend belief – how could a whole town be so oblivious to goings on? I found this frustrating and it was probably one of the things that annoyed me most. I felt this especially while I was reading it, towards the end I did feel that people in the town knew, they just turned a blind eye, possibly out of fear. But given that it involved these small girls – where were they coming from? Ruby was from Liberty, but the rest? I don’t care who you are, if I knew my child was suffering like that – there’d be no way I’d be letting that stand.
That said, Bond’s writing is beautiful, I can’t dispute that. Some of moments between Ruby and Ephram are wonderful.

“Ephram took her hand, “But I’ll tell you what. I’m most interested in the woman you have yet to be.”

“He wanted to tell her that he had seen a part of the night sky resting in her eyes and that he knew it because it lived in him as well. He wanted to tell her about the knot corded about his heart and how he needed her help to loose the binding.”

And don’t get me started on how he cleans her house and washes her hair. He doesn't take advantage of her, even when she expects him to, he just lets her be and gets on with his business.

When the novel opens Ruby has come back from New York to the small town of Liberty, its 1963, but it’s hard to pin point exactly how much time passed while she was in New York and how long she’s been back as it seems to me Ruby doesn't have any concept of time once she gets pulled back into Liberty. The blurb says she’s 30. But I know other readers have questioned the time frame. The novels timeline is erratic in general and this does get confusing. Among Ruby & Ephram’s stories we also get intersecting stories from family members’ lives, how they come to be and how events shape them and their families. But often it’s a half a page or a few at most. I wanted to know more about some of these characters. It’s seems like they’re only explored insofar as how they further Ruby or Ephram’s story. I enjoyed reading about then, but the broken timeline was distracting. From best I can guess early on in the book when Ruby and Ephram meet it’s after she’s been to the pit, but before she goes to stay at Miss Barbara’s, but because the way Bond unfolds the story it is hard to be sure of that. There’s no real mention of how long she stays at Miss Barbara’s, obviously they may have only wanted her for a certain number of years and I think I remember her going there for the school holidays, but I could be mistaken.

This is told alternatively through Ruby and Ephram, and as mentioned, with a few other characters when their view is relevant, (mainly looking into Celia, Otha and Mr. Jennings and a little into Ruby’s past), I liked that we got to hear from both characters and in Ruby’s case this was important, she was often written off as the town crazy lady, when I felt like she wasn't. To me she was almost a wild creature, made that way by circumstance. There is this whole town that is just intent on taking her soul and Ruby is stuck there. An example is early on, when we meet Ma Tante, Ruby is told by her to leave her body/go elsewhere so that they can’t steal her soul. If you stay, that’s how they get you. Essentially, don’t be present for the horror, so you can survive it. There were elements of magical realism that I felt helped bring this to life for me. There are times when she ‘becomes’ a tree and can feel the earth. Depending on which way you take events, Ruby and Otha could possibly suffer from (in my totally non expert opinion), schizophrenia. And I found it interesting that these symptoms are explained/derived from the demons that they’re burdened with, not the actual illness. I guess that’s also depending on how much you believe in the Dybou. At least that was my take on it.

Religion is a theme running throughout the novel, both the conventional and voodoo. It’s interesting the effect that this has on various people. Celia, Ephram’s sister, uses Christianity and its structure to cope with events in her life, to control things. To the point that she is so dogmatic in her views. I kind of get the feeling that she not actually a very nice person. Crows are used a lot throughout the book, both as harbingers and as protection for Ruby. And obviously, there are people in the town that use voodoo. I don’t know enough about voodoo

This is apparently the first in a trilogy. I’d like to see these characters happy. I hope that there isn't too much graphic violence in the next two installments. Moving the novel forward – this may be a possibility, but if it delves back into the Bell’s past I don’t think that’s a possibility. I hope that there is more cohesion within the story and less jumping around in the timelines, even clearer movement would be good. I have reservations recommending this to everyone, it certainly would be too much for some people. I still think it is worthwhile reading it, I can’t say I enjoyed it as such, but it was a powerful read, that I’m still thinking about and as I stated previously, the writing and Ruby and Ephram’s love story is a thing of beauty.

View all my reviews

Until next time, happy reading :)



  1. I loved this book. Loved. It. But it was also one of the most difficult books I’ve read in a long time. Having the beauty of Cynthia Bond’s writing helped counterbalance the darkness on every page, but it was still tough. I can’t imagine what my thoughts about this book would be if I had been expecting something vaguely romantic when picking it up, though!

  2. I'm still thinking about this book, not so much because of the darkness, but Bonds writing, if it wasn't as good as it was I may not have kept reading. I agree totally - one of the hardest books I've read. Have you read any Toni Morrison? I've only read Home so far, but there has been comparison between Morrison and Bond.


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