Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: February 10th, 2015
368 pages
ISBN-10: 0804188246
ISBN-13: 978-0804188241


The newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection

The epic, unforgettable story of a man determined to protect the woman he loves from the town desperate to destroy her, this beautiful and devastating debut heralds the arrival of a major new voice in fiction.

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 Bell, “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 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.

What Did I Think About the Story?

Ruby is the first book in a long while that has me scratching my head as to what exactly to put in my review. The book's writing has been compared to that of Toni Morrison and that comparison is a valid one. Cynthia Bond is a lyrical writer, creating vivid, otherworldly images that swirl around as the reader dives into the devastating world Ruby lives in. This can make it hard to follow the plot at times, however, and had me flipping back through the pages to remind myself what the florid language was meant to represent in the first place. The story takes concentration and time to not only appreciate the author's writing style but to fully grasp just how heartbreaking this story is.

The main storyline deals with Ephram Jennings trying to get close to Ruby Bell, the girl who has fascinated him since they were children. Seeing past the half-crazed woman most men in town have taken to sleeping with whenever they want, Ephram is determined to help Ruby out of the darkness she lives in and to help her to realize she is a good, worthwhile person. As Ruby slowly begins to allow Ephram into her world, Ephram's jealous sister Celia incites the small-minded and fearful religious townsfolk of Liberty to bring Ephram back to her and away from the evil clutches of a woman that surely must be possessed by the Devil.

Weaving through this narrative are glimpses into the past, that of not only Ephram, Ruby and Celia but of Ephram's mother and father and the town itself. The hardest parts to read involved Ruby's past, riddled with so much emotional, physical and mental abuse and torture that it made me feel slightly sick to read. These portions and more are quite graphic and made me just ache for Ruby.

There is also an old-world, dark magic seeping through the story that has taken hold of many within Liberty and affected them all, whether they know it or not.  This was an odd component for me, given the horrors going on that were very real and didn't need the help of black magic to make them any worse. It did, however, make an interesting partner for the religious undercurrent of many of the characters, showing the hypocrisy inherent in them.

Finishing Ruby, it isn't hard to see why so many people are praising it and saying it should be required reading. That being said, it isn't an easy or even remotely happy read. It is a hard and sad and devastating look at a woman broken by nearly everyone she has met and the good man who tries to save her. The last few pages hinted at the possibility of brighter days to come but I'm not sure it was enough to lift me out of the muck the rest of the story put me in.   

What Did I Think About the Cover?

The cover doesn't really do anything for me. The black birds do have their place within the story, but other than that it doesn't really give any feeling towards what you are going to find inside. To be honest if it didn't have the Oprah Book Club sticker on the front I wouldn't have picked it up to read the synopsis or the book.

My Rating: 3.0/5.0

I received a free copy of Ruby from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!

Praise for Ruby


“Channeling the lyrical phantasmagoria of early Toni Morrison and the sexual and racial brutality of the 20th century east Texas, Cynthia Bond has created a moving and indelible portrait of a fallen woman… Bond traffics in extremely difficult subjects with a grace and bigheartedness that makes for an accomplished, enthralling read.” —Thomas Chatterton Williams, San Francisco Chronicle

"Hauntingly beautiful… Bond wrote Ruby to bear witness for the girls who can’t escape the torture. And to encourage the girls who do to believe that even after such dark experiences, there can be light”—NPR

“Pure magic. Every line gleams with vigor and sound and beauty. Ruby somehow manages to contain the darkness of racial conflict and cruelty, the persistence of memory, the physical darkness of the piney woods and strange elemental forces, and weld it together with bright seams of love, loyalty, friendship, laced with the petty comedies of small-town lives. Slow tragedies, sudden light. This stunning debut delivers and delivers and delivers.”—Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander

Ruby is a harrowing, hallucinatory novel, a love story and a ghost story about one woman’s attempt to escape the legacy of violence in a small southern town. Cynthia Bond writes with a dazzling poetry that’s part William Faulkner, part Toni Morrison, yet entirely her own. Ruby is encircled by shadows, but incandescent with light.”—Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“[A] daring, lushly written debut…Bond rightly insists that these stories must be heard. .. Readers can take heart as they see Ruby and Ephram stand up to brutality and small-mindedness, finding courage and thus a freedom that can never be taken from them. In their actions, they capture Bond’s own heartfelt hope: ‘If there is a message in my book, it’s that we will always rise.’”—Library Journal

“Bracing….Undeniable….The echoes of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison are clear….A very strong first novel that blends tough realism with the appealing strangeness of a fever dream.” Kirkus

About the Author

CYNTHIA BOND has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles for more than fifteen years. She attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. A PEN/Rosenthal
Photo: © Jay Harris
Fellow, Bond founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. At present, Bond teaches therapeutic writing at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.
You can find out more about Cynthia Bond on her website and can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.  

Buy the Book


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  1. I had a chance to pick it on Vine but passed it up as I had some author reviews coming up soon. So I really appreciate your review. Now I don't feel so bad about missing it. I don't like the cover either. I love Toni Morrison's books, will stick with them. Can't read everything!

    1. Thank you Carol! Yeah, this one threw me for quite the loop when I tried to organize my thoughts into something coherent. I am with you 100% about Toni Morrison...similar yes, the same no! I agree about not being able to read everything as well...but I really wish I could :)!