Ruby by Cynthia Bond is about Ephram Jennings who in his 40s finally finds the strength to go against the sister that raised him and the community that supported him to pursue his childhood love of the local crazy Ruby who is shamed as a godless whore corrupting the good men in a small black town in Texas during the 60s. Through various character vantage points and flashbacks, we learn the harrowing and complicated history of the central lovers and their community, which includes unflinching accounts of child rape, murder, and physical abuse, set within a spiritual war between Christianity, a form of Voodooism, and simple human decency.
I am so glad that I read Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Given the subject matter of the book, “glad” would seem like the wrong word, but this book fed a piece of my soul, and for that I am grateful and, yes, glad. Given the subject matter of the book, it would seem like a “hard” book to read, something I wouldn’t easily consume, something that would take me a long time to get through. But Cynthia Bond has a way with words and a way with story and she wrapped her words and her story around my mind and my heart and my soul and took me down this path, little by little, until I couldn’t turn away from the horror, but became a witness and therefore part of a possible solution. What is the solution? Hope. Acceptance. Not turning a blind eye. Not shying away from truth.
A few of my favorite lines in the book:
“‘Hell, ain’t nothing strange when Colored go crazy. Strange is when we don’t.'”
“Frost pink lips circled a gnash of rotting incisors. She smiled with her lips tight in camouflage, until some random act of cruelty caused her to laugh, exposing the corrosive brown.”
“The body of Junie Rankin was already laid out from the wake. The one person oblivious to the doings across town…”
“The Shephards were proud to be one of only two all-purpose ailment-to-bereavement transportation services for Negroes in the Liberty, Shankleville and Jasper area, answering police dispatches or personal phone calls when a loved one was in need of hospitalization, and then, depending upon the critical nature of the emergency, taking them to whichever destination was required, ER or the mortuary.”
The story is told like a dream, where scenes billow up like clouds. Little digressions into the past. A slow and steady and soothing voice leads you by the hand into a story that slaps you in the face with a sting at the end that tells you everything you need to know for the next part of the dream until the next side story.
There are a lot of reviews of this book. Oprah picked it for her Book Club 2.0. I can’t justify my lousy descriptions of Ms. Bond’s writing, but there is such feeling in the language, in the words, in the story. Ruby is so rich and deep, and I am simply in awe. I can’t say that I identify or relate to the events in this book, but the beauty of books like Ruby is how they transcend gender and race and time and place where a reader empathizes instead of simply sympathizing.
Bravo. Ms. Bonds, you deserve every accolade and then some. I look forward to reading the rest of the story in this now trilogy.
CYNTHIA BOND is a New York Times Best-Selling Author. Her novel RUBY was chosen to be an Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection. RUBY was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and an Indie Next Pick. A PEN Rosenthal Fellow, Bond attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. Cynthia has taught writing to at-risk and homeless youth for over fifteen years, and is on staff at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. She is currently completing the second book in the RUBY Trilogy. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter. Learn more about her on her website.
FTC disclaimer: “I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”