"Ruby Bell was a constant reminder of what could befall a woman whose shoe heels were too high. The people of Liberty Township wove her into cautionary tales of the wages of sin and travel. They called her buck-crazy. Howling, half-naked mad."
I've just finished reading Ruby, by Cynthia Bell. Honestly, it has left me without words. I am still unsure how I feel about the novel, but I know this: it is powerful.
Bond explores some major themes that we've seen before:
But the way she weaves these ideas through Ruby's psychological minefield is pretty unique.
Ruby Bell is a young black woman from Liberty, Texas, born in the era of segregation and racism that our country suffered. She is abandoned by any and every possible caretaker she could have, until she is basically sold into sex slavery at a young age. She gets pregnant at the age of 14 and loses her baby after being beaten by a John, "who paid a little extra. Always a little extra."
Eventually, she escapes to New York, in search of her mother who ran there when Ruby was a young girl. She turns to prostitution to make a living, but falls into an elite crowd when an older, white woman befriends her. "Friend" is probably the wrong word here, for this woman is using her, too. Not for sex, but to have a pretty young thing by her side, who occasionally does house work or serves drinks at her fancy house parties. Ruby learns the ways of high society through this period. But she is eventually called home to Liberty after receiving news that her cousin has passed away.
Upon returning home, she descends into a madness that is both confounding and understandable. Is it because of the memories of her suffering that this madness starts? She lives in an almost feral way for eleven years. ELEVEN YEARS. The townspeople see her, but begin looking through her, accepting her presence and quickly ignoring her for the lost cause they believe her to be.
Or is her madness caused by the ghosts of her past that return to visit her? And I do mean ghosts as a tangible thing. Ruby is followed by "haints". Ghosts, whom she offers up her body to as a safe place to stay. It seems that Ruby is always handing over her body. Does she think that this is her only item worth trading? Is this the only thing she has to offer the world? It is so horrible that a pretty young black woman, at one time, could think that all the world wanted from her was sex. Or maybe not even sex, but power over something - something small and weak that wouldn't fight back.
But her body isn't something that she offers. It's something that is taken from her, again and again. She is used in every way imaginable by anyone that comes along.
Ephram Jennings knows there's more to Ruby than just her crazy. Having loved her since they were children playing in the chinaberry trees, he finally goes to her with a slice of angel lay cake and hope. But why does it take him eleven years to do so? He is not there to use her, but to love her. He sees Ruby's worth as a woman and an individual. If simply for the fact that she deserves love, and he has it to give.
My favorite line is from Ruby: "Before she could teach anything, she had to know it herself." Ultimately, this book is about Ruby finding herself. Finding her value in the world, standing up for herself, and fighting her demons. Although the ending may not be a purely happy one, it is one that the reader can be satisfied with. Bond's story is not a love story about a man and a woman, but about a woman who learns to love herself.
Ruby, my second book from Blogging for Books, is far and away much better than the first book I reviewed. I can definitely recommend Ruby as a book about self-discovery and acceptance.
For more info on Ruby by Cynthia Bond, go here. For more info on the author, here.
Although I received this book from Blogging for Books to review, all thoughts and opinions are my own.