By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Cynthia Bond
Format: Hardcover, 344 pages
Pub Date: April 29, 2014
Summary from Publisher:
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.
– From Chapters Indigo website
Book Review by Zara
from The Bibliotaphe Closet:
Ruby by Cynthia Bond is a devastatingly rich, provocative, and beautifully written, haunting novel about the secret darkness that can envelop not only an individual, but infect an entire town in a story centered around two powerful characters: Ephram Jennings and Ruby Bell.
Locked together in the desolation of poverty, a dark and traumatic childhood, and the fervour of malicious gossip, Ephram and Ruby must both battle a litany of demonic forces in their lives in a small southern town called Liberty. But, liberty isn’t what they find in the struggles they come against, their histories a dark and throbbing suffering that affects their thoughts and inhibitions.
The book’s narrative is so strong and true that its testimony to realism gives the reader not only the imagination to hear the characters, but to also see and vividly imagine who they are as if in the narrative itself. The language is as beautiful as it is sharp in its edges, its poetic cadences as pastoral as the land it describes, and its heartache, and suffering as palpable as wounds themselves:
“Them lawman drag her out to that hill past Marion Lake. It musta been then they slide on they white hoods. The moon, is was nearly full and bright. From up there Neva musta been able to see her daddy’s land. All them fresh-harvested acres. Maybe that’s where she fix her eyes while Klux keep her out there for hours—doin’ what God ain’t got the muscle to look at.
Then, when they was done, out there on that hilltop, time stretch itself out like molasses. Crickets slow they crik. Owl drag her ‘hoo’s’ That’s when Sheriff Levy click the safety off that Remington Sport rifle of his—the one he brag on so, its barrel catching a piece of moon. Then each every man take his firearm to his shoulder and aim at that child. What they see through them deluxe ta’get sights they think need shootin’? Only Neva Annetta Bell. Eighteen and a half year old. Knees on the dirt. Her hope broke like water round the edges of her skirt. But them the kind use to firing into gentle things.” – p.68
Bond creates a myriad of powerful characters whose private sufferings not only adds more substance and interest to the novel, but also creates a deeper complexity to the characters themselves where judgement by the reader is not so readily made since the experiences and hardships suffered by these characters cannot entirely justify their failings, but help reiterate a better understanding of them instead.
Characters like Gubber Samuels, a man whose long history with Ephram, affords him a sentimental loyalty, yet an equally soft spine when faced with pressure from the mob of the Liberty township.
The self-taught toughness of Maggie Wilkins, protective friend of young Ruby Bell, whose tomboy haughtiness, hot-tempered anger, and fearless brawling all create and call a protective net over Ruby’s life for a time, but also danger and eventually death for Maggie, herself.
The self-entitlement, ego, and lust of Chauncy Rankin, lead him down the dark path of immorality since he was reared by example to believe that true strength can only stem from violence.
The overbearing manipulation and control of Ephram by his older, unmarried sister, Celia Jennings, whose severe self-righteousness and maternal domesticity stems from the trauma of losing, first, her father to death by the Klu Klux Klan, and then her brother who she raised as a son, to another woman against her wishes.
Reverend Jennings, whose pastoral charisma first charms Otha Daniels into a quick and deceptive marriage, sours into an unimaginable, patriarchal tyrant, a violent leader who paralyzes Otha and Ephram into distrustful subservience, frustrated fear, and further self-deprecatory introversion, only to reveal an even darker past and hypocrisy.
Ruby Bell, in which the novel is named, is Liberty’s isolated and misunderstood beauty, the granddaughter of Papa Bell, a thriving cotton farmer until the demise of his strawberry blonde daughter, Ruby’s aunt, Neva Annetta Bell, whose exceptional beauty unintentionally seduced Peter Leech, not only the Viceroy of the First National Bank, but a white man, whose physical obsession compelled him to want to leave his wife and children—and led Neva onto a hill and her eventual death after unnameable torture by 11 men of the Klu Klux Klan.
Ruby inherited the tragedy of her bloodline, its sexual violence, and corruption seeded from men’s lust for possession and power. Along with that, a maddening gift of sight that opens the door between this and the spiritual world of haints, gris-gris, and the Dybou.
And lastly, Ephram Jennings, a man of gentleness and quiet goodness, whose suffered childhood trauma does not deter him from moral strength and understanding. Though considered having castrated his manhood to the whims of his domineering sister, he is able to finally bring enough courage to walk past the emotional memory associated with the Dearing State Mental Hospital, the social degradation and hopelessness of Bloom’s Juke, to the secrets of Marion Lake and the forest on Bell Land, to finally make it to the Chinaberry Tree outside of Ruby Bell’s house filled with the filthy squalor of neglect from the hallucinatory suffering and anguish of old haunts.
The plot is as powerful as the characters who must navigate through it, with its eloquent hardship, its thoughtful realism and detail, its graphic history, and unsettling surprises and interconnectedness. It’s complexity is as rich as its lyrical narrative, traumatic obstacles, and spiritual drama. Its pacing, too, is perfect—a gradual ease into the lives of these characters, who in time come to reveal the makeup of their sordid pasts and cumulative sufferings that subsequently drive them into the darkness of themselves.
It is an exceedingly creative, abrasive, yet beautiful book, one that renders its light on the wonder and dark of the mystical, the infestation of racial hatred and crime, the audacity of sexual perversion and power, the true identity of evil and madness, and the strength of vulnerability, perseverance, and love. Ruby by Cynthia Bond is truly a magnificent book, one that will move you to contempt—and compassion.
Characters: 5 stars
Plot: 5 stars
Language/Narrative: 5 stars
Dialogue: 5 stars
Pacing: 5 stars
Cover Design: 2.5 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Hogarth for providing me with a copy of Ruby in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
Cynthia Bond has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles for more than fifteen years. She attended Northwester University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American academy of Dramatic Arts. A PEN/Rosenthal Fellow, Bond founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. At present, Bond works as a writing consultant and teaches therapeutic writing at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. A native of East Texas, she lives in Lose Angeles with her daughter.
-From novel, Ruby
Connect with Cynthia through her Official Website.
What do you think it really means to be righteous?
Have you read the novel, “Ruby?” Who is your favourite, most compelling character and why?
Do you believe in spirits? Why or why not?
Do you believe in mystical, occult practices?
What do you think the “Dybou” is?