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Ruby: A Novel (Oprahs Book Club 2.0) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 29, 2014

3.8 out of 5 stars 917 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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


2016 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, Shortlist

“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

“A beautifully wrought ghost story, a love story, a survival story...[A] wonderful debut.” —Angela Flournoy, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Reading Cynthia Bond’s Ruby, you can’t help but feel that one day this book will be considered a staple of our literature, a classic. Lush, deep, momentous, much like the people and landscape it describes, Ruby enchants not just with its powerful tale of lifelong quests and unrelenting love, but also with its exquisite language. It is a treasure of a book, one you won’t soon forget.”
—Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light

“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

“From the first sentence, Cynthia Bond’s unforgettable debut novel, Ruby, took hold of me and it hasn’t let go. Cynthia Bond has written a book everyone should read, about the power of love to overcome even the darkest of histories.”
—Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot

“Bond proves to be a powerful literary force, a writer whose unflinching yet lyrical prose is reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s.” O, The Oprah Magazine

“In Ruby, Bond has created a heroine worthy of the great female protagonists of Toni Morrison…and Zora Neale Hurston… Bond’s style of writing is as magical as an East Texas sunrise.” Dallas Morning News

“Evocative, affective and accomplished… Bond tells the story of Ruby and Ephram’s lives and their relationship with unflinching honesty and a surreal, haunting quality.” Texas Observer

“Gorgeous… Bond is a gifted writer, powerful and nimble… [I]t’s tempting to call up Toni Morrison or Alice Walker or Ntozake Shange. It should be done more as compliment than comparison, though…Bond’s is a robustly original voice.”Barnes and Noble Review

“Oprah recommended this book to me, and it is astounding. [Cynthia Bond] has such a majestic command of language; she catapults everyday words into rare air with lines that sear into your memory. The characters Ruby and Ephraim shimmer with vibrancy — they show the complications of pain and joy, all messily and beautifully together. A total triumph.” Ava DuVernay, director of Selma

“If you love well-written historical fiction and multifaceted grown-up characters, put Ruby at the top of your beach bag... Bond delivers multiple goods with this one.” Essence

“Cynthia Bond creates a vibrant chorus of voices united by a common struggle… [T]he prose’s lyricism and Ruby’s interaction with the dead call to mind Beloved… While Bond’s characters may sense the inevitability of loss and loneliness, they are also driven by something else, a timid hopefulness that they may find serenity and compassion amid the ghosts who haunt them.” The Rumpus

“Exquisite, juxtaposing horrific imagery with dreamy evocative lyricism.”
Lambda Literary

“Literary magic.” St. Louis American

Ruby explores the redeeming power of love in the face of horrific trauma… If the truth shall set us free, Ms. Bond shows us, in her story of grace, that love is truth.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“[A] dark and redemptive beauty... Bond’s prose is evocative of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, paying homage to the greats of Southern gothic literature.”
Library Journal (starred)

“[A] powerful, explosive novel. Bond immerses readers in a fully realized world, one scarred by virulent racism and perverted rituals but also redeemed by love.”
Booklist (starred)

“An unusual, rare and beautiful novel that is meant to be experienced as much as read.” Shelf Awareness (starred)

“A stunning debut. Ruby is unforgettable.” —John Rechy, author of City of Night

“Cloaked in authenticity, Ruby is unlike anything else out there right now.”
Windy City Times

“Impeccably crafted… Ruby is undoubtedly the early work of a master storyteller whose literary lyricism is nothing short of pitch perfect.” BookPage

“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

The latest book club pick from Oprah
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Product Details

  • Series: Oprahs Book Club 2.0
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; First Edition edition (April 29, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804139091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804139090
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (917 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Fairbanks Reader - 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
The sheer volume of child-rapes, woman-killings and other truly awful layings-of-waste in this book turned my stomach, but 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 that fills her world is just too high. Even for fiction, it defied belief. That Ruby is 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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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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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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