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A Virtuous Woman (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – November 5, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, October 1997: Gibbons's novel, A Virtuous Woman, takes place in the same hardscrabble part of the world as Ellen Foster. The virtuous woman is Ruby Pitt Woodrow, a woman who might have ended up like Ellen Foster's mother if fate, in the shape of Jack Stokes, hadn't crossed her path. The daughter of prosperous farmers, Ruby runs off with a migrant worker who treats her badly, then abandons her far from home. When she meets Jack, a man 20 years her senior, she's working as a cleaning woman in another prosperous farmer's house. Jack is a man women don't look at even once, let alone twice; Ruby is a woman who needs someone to take care of her. Out of this unlikely union grows a quiet kind of love that is no less powerful for being unstated.

Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman share more than just location and a few characters in common. Though each is a complete novel in and of itself, taken together the two books resonate one another: Ellen Foster and Ruby Pitt Woodrow are both damaged people who find the kind of love they need to heal. These multilayered novels are tough-minded and resolutely unsentimental, just like their protagonists. Yet like Ellen and Ruby, each contains a nut of sweetness at its core that takes the bitter edge off the hard lives and hard stories Kaye Gibbons has to tell.

From Publishers Weekly

Jack Stokes and Ruby Pitt weave this strong, tightly knit love story in alternating chapters that begin when Jack, grieving over Ruby's death four months earlier, evokes the past. In flashbacks, the two richly cadenced Southern voices explore their vastly differing backgrounds, troubled histories and their unlikely but loving marriage. Born into a proud, prominent country family, coddled and adored, Ruby stuns her parents and two brothers by inexplicably running off with John Woodrow, a migrant worker who savagely abuses her. When John is killed in a brawl, Ruby, too proud to ask her family for help, begins doing housework for the wealthy Hoover family, where she meets Jack, a laconic, immensely capable tenant farmer on the Hoover land. He is 40; she is 20. Both lonely and vulnerable, they regard each other cautiously, carry on a wary courtship and embark on a firmly grounded marriage. The union is enriched by a small, supportive circle of friends, who, like the couple's landlord, Burr, are sharply etched and convincingly drawn. Gibbons, author of the critically praised Ellen Foster , has written a vivid, unsentimental, powerful novel. Literary Guild and Double day Book Club alternates.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 165 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; English Language edition (November 5, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703065
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Barbara on January 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
Here'a wonderful, basic story of heartfelt love. There was something about Ruby from the first day Jack saw her at the picnic table where all the migrant workers met before work. Ruby Pitt was a woman that bore her share of crosses.
This story follows Jack's love for his wife through their marriage, through Ruby's illness and beyond.
It's a sweet story that will pull at your heart strings and I have to say, it had me crying at one point til I couldn't see through the tears.
You will love Ruby and Jack. You'll want to take their hands and help them. And there are some characters that you just won't like at all! Some truely mean people.
This is a quick read and a very enjoyable, hard to put down book. I strongly recommend reading this book. It's just plain old fashioned love and tenderness between two good human beings and the struggles they endure.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By drebbles VINE VOICE on April 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
Beautifully written, A Virtuous Women, is the quiet love story of Ruby Pitt Woodrow, daughter of a rich farmer, and Jack Stokes, a tenant farmer. At first they seem an unlikely match, Ruby, although 20 years younger than Jack, is already widowed, Jack, unattractive and unsuccessful, has never been married. But both have had tough lives. Ruby is alienated from her parents due to her brief marriage which was a disaster. She is working as a maid when she meets Jack. Jack has never had much, although his dream is to own a piece of land. Together they find, if not what they were looking for, a sense of completeness.

The book is written in first person narration with both Jack and Ruby narrating alternate chapters (except the last chapter which is written in the third person). This technique helps make both characters seem real. For me, personally, Jack was the character I most cared about, mostly because we know from the very beginning that Ruby dies and we see that Jack is lost without her.

This is one of those simple, quiet kind of books where there is little action or plot, just the story of two people who come to love and care for each other. Yet, it's the kind of story that will stay with you long after you've read it.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a story told in two voices.
One is Ruby's...kind,beautiful Ruby, who happens to be at the right place at the right time when she meets Jack Stokes. The opposite of her abusive, drinkin, womenizin first husband. Ruby tells us how Jack takes her away from all that dysfunction, promising her a decent life, caring for her, treating her like the lady she is.
Jack devotes himself completely to Ruby, gives his heart to her, showing his love in unique ways. For instance, buying her a mule!
He isn't the best looking man, or the smartest...but that was enough for Ruby.
Then there's Jack's voice. Jack is a man after my own heart. I couldn't help thinking...this book could have just as well been called, "A Virtuous Man"
40 yrs old when he sets eyes on Ruby sitting under a pecan tree...He says, "now that's a girl I could marry."
And after those eyes meet hers, nothing is the same. Everything afterwards begins and ends with Ruby.
I adored Jacks narrative, his kindness, the love he expressed to Ruby. After Ruby dies, the only thing keeping him going is wishing and hoping she comes back...laying next to him in bed, her skin touching his skin, smelling of lavender, and eating her usual dish of yogurt.
Gibbon's gives us other memorable characters also, like Little Fran, who is the devil dressed as a fat woman.
She gives up Mavis, who is hired when Ruby dies to help around the house but mostly helps herself to orange candy and soda and breaks the toilet seat.
I enjoyed the book, but the 4 star rating is for Jack. His voice makes the story much more interesting than it would have been otherwise.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Neis on August 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
The first book I read by Gibbons, Ellen Foster, was really impressive. So when i picked up The Virtuous Woman, I was naturally anticipating more of the same. The story centers around a man named Jack who, at 40, falls in love with and marries Ruby, only 20 and already widowed. According to the back of the book, the main focus is their intense love for each other. While the book was interesting to read and very easily finished in a few hours, I find that I am left with more information about the neighbors, the landlords, Ruby's first marriage, Jack's years of work... everything else except Ruby and Jack's life together. This seems odd considering Gibbons speaks through the couple individually from chapter-to-chapter. One would think I would have ample information about their life together yet I do not feel as if I do. I don't want to say it was a bad book because it kept my attention and I enjoyed the plot. It just seemed a bit bland. Also, Ruby never consults her parents about any of the important decisions in her life (decisions made at 18, 19 and 20) nor does she ever live independently. She just sort of makes decisions without thinking and then hopes for the best. So, although she has a big heart, I can't really respect her as a woman. All in all, I would say it is a good book that could use some polishing to make it a great book.
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