Ruby by Cynthia Bond is a novel of love, liberty, and the maintaining of dignity in the face of hardship, exploitation and layers of distrust.
The story takes place in Liberty, Texas, a town blanketed in despair and shrouded in an evil that is perpetuated and reinvigorated with each new generation. At the beginning of the novel, Ruby Bell has returned from New York where she went in search of the mother who abandoned her as a child. She has come back to Liberty to find the same dank, horror-filled must that she left behind; only now the tenebrous spirit of Liberty has ensnared her with new vigor.
Though the residents of Liberty reject Ruby and think of here as merely crazy, Ephram Jennings still remembers Ruby as the young, innocent child from his own past, and he takes it upon himself to show kindness and unconditional love to the now broken woman. In the midst of this process, Ephram undergoes his own transformation toward self-assertion, self-love and self-healing.
A novel about breaking free from bondage and finding liberty in love, each of the character’s stories are a haunting reminder of just how cruel the world can be. When we first meet Ruby and Ephram we know that something is off in the way that each of them acts and interacts within their world, but we aren’t given immediate access to the why of their situations. Why is Ruby lying naked in the forest? Why does Ephram, a middle-aged man, live with his sister Celia and call her mother? As the narrative unfolds, unimaginable horrors are revealed as well as character intersections and relationships that are entirely unforeseen.
There is a highly spiritual element to the novel both at the level of institutionalized religion as well as more nature based spirituality. Evoking Roman myths like that of Daphne and Apollo as well as spirit imbued animals, tarrens (ghost children) and the Judeo-Christian God, Bond weaves together these spiritual elements to create a world fraught with contradiction, terror, and oddly enough, inspiration.
Further, questions of sanity pervade the pages of the book. What does it mean to be sane? Who has the right to deem another person insane? To what lengths can a person be physically and emotionally driven before teetering over the edge of what is typically thought of as sane? These physical and emotional experiences are what serve to propel the novel backward and forward through time as the past horrors of Ruby, Ephram, Celia and nearly every other inhabitant of Liberty are revealed throughout the course of the novel. Ruby forces the refiguring and conceptualizing of what trauma, of what sanity and of what dignity really means.
Though at times Ruby is so graphic that it is difficult to want to turn the page and find out what happens next, Bond’s prose is so poetic and fluid that the rhythmic experience of words envelopes the reader in a mystical telling of the very real and imperfect world that we all live in.
Published by Hogarth Press in February 2015, Ruby is already a New York Times Bestseller and Oprah Book Club selection.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.