Ruby, By Cynthia Bond is the OneBook at my college this year. If you aren’t familiar with the concept let me explain. OneBook is a project where communities, Universities, colleges, and even cities, select one book to be read by members that year. Readers get the benefit of knowing others are reading along, it provides an easy selection for individuals and bookclubs and communities can create cohesive themed events relevant to the text. My college has arrange for the author to speak at an event on our campus next month. (I will happily give you the details if anyone is interested in attending.) I love the concept of OneBook and chose to include it in my American Humanities class this semester.
In addition to being my colleges OneBook, Ruby is also an Oprah Bookclub selection. In my experience these selections can be a bit hit or miss- but to give her her due, I agree wholeheartedly with what others have said before me, that Oprah Winfrey can be credited for getting many Americans reading.
Ruby is a weighty read. Set in a fictionalized unincorporated black town in the south the novel takes place 1963-1974, In other words, during the most significant times for social and legal reforms, civil rights securities and the rise of identity politics in a variety of forms.
The book all but ignores all that except for one glaring incidence in which the main character Ruby is shown going against the tide of people flocking to New York for one of Martin Luther Kings most famous addresses.Instead she is headed away from New York and the security of a more enlightened set of companions to a tiny town inwardly focused on itself, completely insulated from the greater discussions happening in society at the time. The sentiment is described well by one of the relatively minor characters addressing the main focus of the novel- the moral demise of Ruby Bell.”livin’ in a world of sin you get tired of fighting fires with thimbles and just start tending to your own back yard, your own good family.”
The book focuses on the harrowing stories in the life of Ruby Bell and how she came to be, over laid with the budding of a new romance between Ruby and her childhood acquaintance Ephrom Jennings, the adult son of the towns former disgraced reverend who was lynched when Ephrom was still a child. As the story reveals itself we are dragged through a horrifying recollection of ongoing trauma, rape and torment at the hands of the men in the town. Connections between Ephrom and Ruby seem to overlap more and more as Ephrom allows Ruby to show him her reality.
The most magical scene in the book was when Ephrom washes Ruby’s hair. He patiently and attentively untangles years of entangled knots and as he does so the haunted memories of Ruby’s experiences are revealed to him. After hours of loving treatment, Ephram patiently and attentively untangles years of knots; as the exhausted Ruby sleeps Ephram continues and haunted memories of Ruby’s experiences are revealed to him. “So this is the life of a woman” 

4 comments on “Ruby”

  1. Thanks for your review on Ruby– it looks like maybe your post got published without that last sentence having been complete– I’m left on edge at ‘experience by’ though I appreciate the poetics 🙂


    1. I didn’t even notice that. I edited it at the end, can’t remember what I intended to write. I actually was mid writing this here but finished it in Google drive. I noticed that I hadn’t posted it when I was updating my reading log. I wrote this originally in 2018.


  2. I am drawn to this image of washing Ruby’s hair, untangling her hair and her life. Very powerful. Very sensual. Very visceral. Thank you for that.

    My library organizes a community read also, though it does not extend to the college and university. That is pretty amazing. Really a community read.


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