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Ruby: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 29, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; First Edition edition (April 29, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804139091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804139090
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #289,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Essay by Cynthia Bond

There are elements of Ruby—locations, characters, stories—that have come from real life. It’s a bit like a pot of gumbo. There are moments, spices, that have been stirred in slowly—from my life and from the stories of others.

Some of my first memories are listening to my mother tell stories about her childhood home, a small, all-black East Texas town. A stunningly beautiful and nationally recognized academician today, my mother grew up on a little farm in the piney woods. She has a collection of tiny scars on her body that illustrate her journey…stepping on a rusty nail and having to wear a slab of salt pork wrapped around her foot for an entire summer. The elbow where a teacup was hurled at her as she bolted out of a door. As children, my sister and I would point to each of these scars, these “chapters” in her young life. In many ways, this is how Ruby began.

As my sister and I grew older, my mother shared more of her story. Of her beloved sister being murdered by the Sheriff and his deputies, of so many other siblings who, because of their skin color and the dehumanization of racism, made the decision to flee up North and pass for white. My mother told us tales of being picked on for being “yellow,” having light skin and straight hair. She told us how, for survival, she learned to fight to protect herself. How she became legendary, beating boys and girls three times her size. Maggie, in my novel, is this part of my mother’s life.

More than anything, my sister and I grew to love our grandfather, Mr. James Marshall, the son of a slave master and a slave, who has become Mr. Bell in the novel. Mr. Marshall who was so light in complexion, whose eyes were so blue and hair so blond, that he was mistaken for white. However, he always corrected the misconception. When stepping onto a bus, and being told by the driver that he did not have to go to the back of the bus my grandfather would turn around and say, “No sir, I’m colored.”

My own history of abuse informed this novel, as well. I joined a support group very early on in my recovery and met an amazing woman who had survived the unthinkable. She had lived through some of the things that I write about in Ruby. Then, in completely disconnected instances, I heard similar stories from women who had never met my friend, sharing the same details, the exact same experiences. Somewhere along the way, working with at risk and homeless youth in Los Angeles for 15 years, living with my own abuse, and hearing stories of such pain and torment, I thought—If you can bear to have lived it, I can at least bear to listen. Ephram Jennings says that in some form to Ruby later in the novel. I asked that of myself while working on this book.

I read books about conjure and ancient spiritual beliefs, about both healing and destructive magic in the Deep South and throughout America in both white and black communities. I have, as a writer, taken the facts I have gathered and woven them together—images, and voices, with the ephemeral thread of fiction. I had already written scenes, snippets of a short story entitled Ruby, and these images were already sifting through my mind, my heart and my fingers. They had taken hold.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ephram Jennings, the son of a backwoods preacher, has been in love with the beautiful Ruby Bell ever since childhood. But Ruby has been so badly used by the men in her small African American town of Liberty, Texas, that she flees for New York City as soon as she is able, in search of the mother who abandoned her. When Ruby’s best friend dies, Ruby returns home, only to succumb to the bad memories that haunt her still. Once sharply dressed and coiffed, she now wanders the streets with ripped clothing and vacant eyes. But Ephram still sees her as the lighthearted girl with pigtails, running free in the woods. And so he begins his long, sweet courtship, bringing her a homemade cake, cleaning her filthy house, and always treating her with kindness. At long last, out from under his overbearing sister’s dominion, he feels himself come alive. But the church folks in town view their relationship as the work of the devil and seek to bring Ephram back to God and to cast out Ruby. In her first novel, Bond immerses readers in a fully realized world, one scarred by virulent racism and perverted rituals but also redeemed by love. Graphic in its descriptions of sexual violence and suffering, this powerful, explosive novel is, at times, difficult to read, presenting a stark, unflinching portrait of dark deeds and dark psyches. --Joanne Wilkinson

More About the Author

Writer and educator Cynthia Bond has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles for over fifteen years. Cynthia attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Cynthia acted for many years in New York with the Negro Ensemble Company. A PEN Rosenthal Fellow, Cynthia founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. At present, Bond teaches therapeutic writing at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. Her novel RUBY is published by Hogarth Press, a division of Random House in April 2014. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.

From Cynthia:

Thanks so much for visiting my author page. I'd love to hear how you feel about RUBY and I'm available to answer questions as well.

I hope you enjoy!

All my best,

Customer Reviews

The ending is strange and not happy.
The characters are beautifully developed in all their complexities.
The writing is so rich and beautiful.
Ben Johnson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Cynthia Bond writes beautifully. Her novel is poetic, mystical, and magical. Her writing sang to me. She is definitely a writer to be watched.

This story is about Ruby, a mulatto woman who grew up in Liberty, Texas. She was abandoned by her mother and given to a white woman to clean house. She was treated brutally from childhood and her history of abuse colors her future and poisons her life. Ruby has spent most of her life in Liberty except for some years in the 1960's when she went to New York City. There she mingled with the literati and rich people but also sold her body to the highest bidder.

Ephram is the man who has loved Ruby since she was a girl. He is a bagger at the Liberty supermarket and has been raised by his sister, Celia. Ephram's father was murdered by lynching, and his mother has been a patient in Rusk Mental Hospital since she attended a picnic stark naked. Both Celia and Ruby compete for Ephram's heart and Ephram hopes he can save Ruby from herself and life.

The novel is infused with a lot of voodoo and gris-gris which are metaphorical for much of the pain and despair that the characters feel. However, I feel like there is too much of it as it obscures the story at times.

The language in the novel is lovely. "She felt a thousand lavender flowers erupting from the edges of her fingers. She felt them playing a delicious melody that scented the wind and called striped bees and hummingbirds." The magical realism evokes similarities to Alice Hoffman and Isabel Allende.

The book goes back and forth in time. The reader sees Ruby's life in the present when she lives in her own filth and is obviously very mentally ill. We also see her in New York during the time that Martin Luther King's march on Washington was held.
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Format: Hardcover
RUBY, a powerful and disturbing debut novel from Cynthia Bond, opens with kindhearted Ephram Jennings asking his sister Celia to bake him a white angel food cake to take to a sick friend. The sick friend turns out to be Ruby Bell, who lives on Bell land, all the way on the other side of town. Now 47, Ephram has known and loved Ruby from childhood. He fondly remembers her as “the sweet little girl with long braids. The kind of pretty it hurt to look at, like candy on a sore tooth.” Ruby is currently in her early 40s, and since her return 11 years earlier to her hometown of Liberty, Ephram has watched her steadily slip into madness. She now walks into town with her “hair caked with mud. Blackened nails as if she had scratched the slate of night. Her acres of legs carrying her, arms swaying like a loose screen. Her eyes the ink of sky, just before the storm.”

Long considered the town whore, Ruby is used by the town’s men and shunned by the town’s women. No one other than Miss P, the owner of the P&K Market, shows her any mercy or kindness. She always gives Ruby food to eat, and for 11 years Ephram has watched: “Every day he wanted nothing more than to put each tired sole in his wide wooden tub, brush them both in warm soapy water, cream them with sweet oil, and lanoline and then lip her feet, one by one into a pair of red-heel socks.” Ephram sees Ruby not as the crazy town whore, but as his soul mate, and the day he asks Celia to bake him the cake for her is the day he decides to leave his predictable life behind and help Ruby start to heal from a life filled with horrific mental and physical abuse.

The ghosts from Ruby’s past are many, starting with the mother whose abandonment of her as a child leads Ruby to being sold into a life of prostitution, working at a brothel run by Ms.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Hope I. Help on May 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The sheer volume of child-rapes, woman-killings and other truly awful layings-of-waste in this book turned my stomach. And please don't misconstrue that as a testament to the author's powerful prose. Because, while Ruby's "magical" mental state is artfully and intelligently rendered, the heap of corpses is just too high. Even for fiction, I found it difficult to believe. That Ruby is then reduced to rutting in the dirt with any passerby is plausible, as far as narrative structure goes, but do I really want to read about it over and over and over again? I don't mind tough subject matter at all, but felt this story was rendered meaningless by its grotesque accumulation. I considered giving RUBY two stars--because the writing is poetic, the characters well-drawn, and some readers may find the story cathartic--but in the end I just couldn't do it.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Pretty Brown Girl VINE VOICE on March 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Set in a small, rural town ironically named Liberty, which seems decades behind the times, the story surrounds the life and times of the enigmatic Ruby Bell, a child conceived in violence, born colored and beautiful in a time and place when those qualities often attracted the wrong kind of attention. As a girl she was loved and admired by many including the smitten preacher’s son, Ephram Jennings, who had a good heart despite his mental shortcomings. Ruby, abandoned by her mother and orphaned at a young age, was coveted and exploited just like her mother and aunts. Her fate was tied to theirs in a dark, perverted cycle of abuse which pushed her into utter madness until one day, Ephram decides to court her to the shock and chagrin of the townsfolk, especially his sanctified, controlling sister, Celia.

Although the term “lyrical prose” may be overused in describing works of literature, in this case, it is spot on in describing the author’s style. Filled with symbolism, I was reminded (a little) of Toni Morrison’s work. For example, anyone familiar with Beloved will note the numerical and superstitious significance of Sethe’s home Cincinnati address was 124 Bluestone Road (the sum of the house address equals 7, a number representing completion and blue stones were revered by slaves and represented safety and good luck). In Ruby, the Jennings home address was 8 Abraham Road. The number eight has been associated with themes of self-destruction; eight on its side is the symbol of infinity which is often linked to reincarnation. Abraham, leader and father, was willing to sacrifice his son at the request of his god and sure enough, there was a parallel of sorts with Ephram and his father, Reverend Jennings, but not for the reasons shared by the Biblical character.
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