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 cautionary tales of the wages of sin and travel. They called her buck-crazy. Howling, half-naked mad. The fact that she had come back from New York City made this somewhat understandable to the town.
As a young girl, Ruby Bell was “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at.” It is her looks that brought her so much suffering ever since she was six years old, so as soon as she can, Ruby flees to New York leaving Liberty Township and memories of its people behind.
Many years later, the death of her beloved cousin Maggie brings Ruby back. To people in Liberty Township, Ruby is nothing but an outsider, and bit by bit they crush the remainder of her soul with their hypocrisy and oppression. The number of people who shows Ruby sympathy of any form can be counted with one hand. On top of that list is Ephram Jennings, Ruby’s childhood friend, who was raised by his sister, Celia – the Church Mother. In the eyes of the “religious folk” in Liberty Township’s, including Celia, Ruby’s sins are many and it is through Ruby that the devil does his dirty work. So when Celia makes Ephram decide between loyalty towards “his mama” or acceptance of Ruby, the woman he has loved his entire life what will happen?
Ruby is a difficult read. Rape and abuse are explained in graphic details, and while reading it I had to keep telling myself no one’s life can be this bad just so I would have the courage to finish the book. But of course it can be that bad, and as revealed in ‘A Conversation with Cynthia Bond’ at the end of the novel, she was a victim of human trafficking when she was a child so we can assume most of the scenes and feelings are not imagined. 😦
And it is not only Ruby who had a bad life – Ruby’s aunts, mother, grandfather, and Ephram’s mother’s stories are not that far from Ruby’s. Together they cover racial segregation issues in the 1950s America, sexual violence, spousal abuse, incest, and voodoo, and again most of these stories are based on realities Cynthia Bond’s loved ones faced at some point in their lives. This, I believe makes Ruby an important book for us to read, because as Ephram says to Ruby “If you can bear to have lived it, I can at least bear to listen.”