Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ruby by Cynthia Bond - An Oprah's Book Club Selection...

Ephram Jennings had seen the gray woman
passing like a haint through the center of town
since she'd returned to Bell land in 1965. All
of Liberty had. He had seen her wipe the spittle
from her jerking lips, run her still beautiful
hands over the crust of her hair each day before
she'd turned the corner in view of the two. He'd
seen her walking like she had some place she
ought to have been then five steps away from
P & K Market, stand pillar still, her rain cloud
body shaking. Ephram had seen Miss P, the
proprietor of the store, walk nonchalantly out
of her door and say, "Honey, can you see if I
got the rise in these rolls right?"
Ephram watched Ruby stare past her but take
the brown sack filled with steaming yeast bread.
Take it and walk away with her acres of legs
carrying her, while Miss P said, "You come on
back tomorrow, Ruby Bell, and help me out
if you get the chance."
Ephram Jennings had watched this for eleven
years. Seen her black-bottomed foot kick a
swirl of dust in its wake. 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 slip her feet, one by one
into a pair of red-heel socks.
But instead, with each passing year...he sat
alongside the crowd of men parked on their
stools outside P & K...They had all watched,
steadily, as she slipped into madness...
When I first saw the title of this book, I immediately thought of a story by my dear online friend, Spencer Turnage, who I still miss after his death.  I shared a story he had written entitledMiss Ruby. 

Click to Read Miss Ruby

As I read the story by Cynthia Bond and met Ephram, I realized that my vision of Spencer matched the personality of the male main character. Ephram was a good man...

It's taken me a week to read this book. At times, the content got to be so overwhelming that I had to stop reading. This is an extremely dark book and I urge you to read other reviews--pro and con--if you have not yet read the book. As the heading says, this is the
latest book selected for the Oprah Book Club. While I recognize that it is very well written and certainly deserves a top rank and undoubtedly has a place in Black History, I still find that I could not wholeheartedly recommend it to all readers...unless you are willing to confront the powerful, dark images that will grow worse as the story moves forward. If it were not for Ephram and the relationship he began with Ruby, I would have stopped reading altogether.
In fact, it seemed that only one other individual in town--Miss P who ran the local store, had an ounce of goodness! The town of Liberty certainly was not filled with individuals the light...

By Cynthia Bond

Ruby had lived in Liberty when she was young and it was then that Ephram had first saw and loved her. That was when he was 11. By that time, Celia, Ephram's older sister and he were more or less on their own, including having been banned at that time from attending the church in which they were raised. (Since Oprah supports the book, she's the one who stars as Ruby...)

"You got da mystic star. There,"
She took her other hand. "There
too. Lord child you ain't nothing but
a doorway. How many haints you
count at your heels?"
Ruby stopped dead. It was the first
time anyone had seen. It meant she
couldn't pretend it was a game anymore,
or a piece of a bad dream. Finally she
answered, "Three."
Ephram had gone fishing when Maggie Wilkins had brought Ruby down near the lake.

He had just finished eating and was sitting with his pole when he spotted them--Maggie Wilkins and the quiet little girl beside her. They were across the lake. The girl tiptoed and leaned in, her nose almost touch Margaret's cheek. She was caramel brown with her hair up and fancy, grown-up eyes in a heart-shaped face...
Just as he thought of retreating into the brush, he saw the quiet girl pointing in his direction. Maggie turned fiercely and cut her eyes at him. "What you staring at?" she called from the lake...

It was during that first meeting that they went on to see Ma Tante. Ephram's father had said "she was the Devil's midwife and stitched evil into night's coattails. The Reverend had preached for his congregation to stay away. But when anybody needed her services, they chose not to pay heed to their Reverend's advice.

The one with the oval lodestone tied
on its back--was for Ruby. 

Ma Tante had made them each a gris-gris, but somehow, Ruby's had been held for all these years by Ephram... I wondered, if Ruby had held on to it, whether she would have gone through what she had... But, later, it was taken from Ephram and buried deep in the ground, never to be found again.

Useless, Ma Tante thought. To give them the gris-gris she'd made. What difference could it make? Didn't have the juice time would have fed them. She'd made them up quick when she'd smelt the children coming through the rain. Couldn't stop nothing. Still, it was a sin not to paddle your boat, even in a lake of fire. So, into each hand Ma Tante put a teeny black bigger than a child's pinkie.

It was not long after that Ruby was taken from her home and established in a house where men could visit the young girls... Ruby got a quarter tip for each visit, which was held in a small bowl next to her bed. She was able to become friends with another little girl who quickly told her the ropes--in particular, that the tips were hers, but others would come to try to take them! They became close as sisters and sometimes were paired--they didn't mind since it was easier on both of them. At least until he came... He played the game of good girl versus bad little girl. Ruby became his good little girl and later watched as her friend was killed...

That was the first murdered child that she invited to enter her...

Ruby later learned that the man had paid for exactly what he had done...

Because of her great beauty, while Ruby was continued in prostitution, she later found females who would treat her better and dress her according to their status. Still, when she learned of the death of her childhood friend, she went home, still as beautiful as she had been there in New York. But as she made her way back to the Bell home, she was soon accosted by town men...but, more, by all of the little children who had been murdered in the woods surrounding her place. They rushed to her, seeking help...and a home. She soon was calling them her babies. And when a little one was finally able to feel safe and ready to leave this earth, Ruby would bury each one under a large  
china-berry tree, from which she would gain strength from, along with surrounding natural items, to deal with what was happening to her...Soon all of her clothes and other items she had brought from New York were stolen and her mind began to wander. She no longer took care of herself, nor her home and both became filthy. Men who would come for her would throw buckets of water on her, take her, and leave her where they had been, on the ground...
 Ruby whispered, softly to herself,
that there was nothing there,
just the coming evening. Still her
 skin tingled hot, her mouth dry
 as it crossed the space between
 them and pressed against her,
flattening her dress against her
chest, her legs.

But for all that Ruby had lost, there were many things she had found.
A rising growl that rumbled out of her belly. Drool that wetted her lips and slid down the angle of her jaw. A jerking, rhythmic contortion of her face. Because these often happened without her permission and in view of the town, Ruby found what it was to no longer be seen as human.
She discovered that she could hammer her pride so wafer thin that she could accept alms like a beggar.
Then, one late afternoon, Ruby found a new pitted terror, as she sat on her bed watching dust swim in the light. She heard the slow creak of the screen door, a flutter of sparrows outside. She listened as a cup of water on the kitchen table turned over, and a thin cascading splash, like a man urinating, poured onto the floor. Ruby waited--it would not be the first time someone had some unannounced. But instead of a man, she saw a weighted, umber thickness slide into the room.
It shifted, moving along the floorboards. It darkened the corners, adding mass to the shadows...Ruby did not know why she sat on the bed, then lay down, but the old curtains ruffled towards the window frame, not away. Then something fell upon her chest. The scent of a deal candle filled her, making it hard to breathe. When the mattress sank deeper, Ruby thought to scream, but whatever lay upon her whispered the creaks and groans of the house into her ear, it smoothed and relaxed her until she felt a soft pressure upon her groin...Ruby knew this was a Dybou--what Ma Tante had spoken of so long ago. A heat pulsed around her, then entered her. The house seemed to shake.
She spoke, but it was not Ruby speaking. In a low graveled voice she grunted, "Bitch," hot air escaping her lips, "Whore."

While things continue to get worse for Ruby, a breath of fresh air comes into the story when Ephram realizes that he can no longer pretend he does not care what is happening... He asks Celia, his older sister, to bake an angel food cake, which immediately sets her on alert, wanting to know to whom it was to be given...

After some interesting times with his protecting that cake, he finally gets it to Bell land where he finds Ruby outside... The gentle tenderness Ephram shares with Ruby is truly a beautiful thing and almost took away the bad feelings... but not quite. Because as more and more of the story is revealed, it gets even worse than what I've shared.

For me one of the saddest is that, while much of the story is centered around the church, there are very few characters, besides Ephram and Ruby, that serve to lighten the town's population.  Yet, how did Ephram reveal such goodness and love? By the time revelations about church members were finished, I felt that the story had gone too far in the exploration of the dark life of town members. Was it necessary to create such a divergent path between good and evil choices in order to emphasize the love story that ultimately developed? I will admit that the ending was almost a relief, with a satisfying ending. But what haunts me is the 98% dark story of lust, hate, murder and child abuse...

Perhaps the reality of the book in history as well as today's world is what scared me most of all...


Studied journalism, won a PEN Fellowship, taught homeless youth, became a mama, wrote one 900 pg novel named RUBY, cut it into 3 books & managed to stay sane.

CYNTHIA BOND is a New York Times Best-Selling Author. Her novel RUBY was chosen to be an Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection. RUBY was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and an Indie Next Pick. A PEN Rosenthal Fellow, Bond attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. Cynthia has taught writing to at-risk and homeless youth for over fifteen years, and is on staff at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. She is currently completing the second book in the RUBY Trilogy. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.

Please note that I found the interview with the author to be of value in better understanding the book...

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