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Monday, April 13, 2015

Graphic Magical Realism in the Piney Woods

Ruby by Cynthia Bond drew me in with its strong portrayal of a forty-year-old black man who was finally deciding to break free from the family ties that had held him back his whole life. At first, I was charmed by the funny and tender portrait of Ephram Jennings and the characters in his tiny all-black East Texas town.  I was also mesmerized by the picture Bond painted of the woman Ephram loved his entire life - Ruby Bell.  We first see her as the crazy woman wandering the streets of their town, Liberty.  As we get to know both main characters - Ephram and Ruby - better, we began to see the horrors they have lived through.  The cruel abuse Ruby has experienced her whole life is overwhelming to see on the page. The book becomes very difficult to read as the descriptions become more graphic and the reader goes deeper into a world of darkness and evil in the piney woods of Texas.  But as a reader, I could not put down the book because Bond's prose was so strong, poetic really, drawing me in with forceful description and lyrical magic and symbols of both evil and hope. Ruby is a tough read in many ways, but essentially a great book.  Reading this book requires something from the reader, but the best stories always do.  I felt involved in the lives of Ephram and Ruby and couldn't stop reading until the end.

It's hard to believe that this is Cynthia Bond's first book, but she certainly deserves all the accolade she has received. Recently chosen for Ophrah Winfrey's book club, the book is brutally honest about racism and hatred in the South. One character says, "Hell, ain't nothing strange when Colored go crazy. Strange is when we don't."  This book is about survival and grace is totally worth the pain it takes to read the hard truths about sexual violence and evil. Redemption is possible.  Published by Random House in 2014, the book only had a smallish run of 15,000 but Oprah's endorsement helped build the buzz and the next printing this year was 250,000. The book is harrowing, but as Oprah said, "If she can write it, we can read it." The book speaks for many, many young girls who are being abused even now. Reality can be tough to swallow, but Bond's book makes us all better for experiencing the truth.  I am grateful to Blogging for Books for sharing this book with me. It should be noted that I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.