Summary and book reviews of Ruby by Cynthia Bond


A Novel

by Cynthia Bond

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  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 336 pages
    Feb 2015, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucy Rock

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About this Book

Book Summary

The epic, unforgettable story of a man determined to protect the woman he loves from the town desperate to destroy her—this beautiful and devastating debut heralds the arrival of a major new voice in fiction.
Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby, "the kind of pretty it hurt to look at," has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city--the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village--all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother. When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby Bell finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town's dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

Full of life, exquisitely written, and suffused with the pastoral beauty of the rural South, Ruby is a transcendent novel of passion and courage. This wondrous page-turner rushes through the red dust and gossip of Main Street, to the pit fire where men swill bootleg outside Bloom's Juke, to Celia Jennings's kitchen where a cake is being made, yolk by yolk, that Ephram will use to try to begin again with Ruby. Utterly transfixing, with unforgettable characters, riveting suspense, and breathtaking, luminous prose, Ruby offers an unflinching portrait of man's dark acts and the promise of the redemptive power of love.

Chapter 1

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. The fact that she had come back from New York City made this somewhat understandable to the town.

She wore gray like rain clouds and wandered the red roads in bared feet. Calluses thick as boot leather. Hair caked with mud. Blackened nails as if she had scratched the slate of night. Her acres of legs carrying her, arms swaying like a loose screen. Her eyes the ink of sky, just before the storm.

That is how Ruby walked when she lived in the splintered house that Papa Bell had built before he passed. When she dug into the East Texas soil under moonlight and wailed like a distant train.

In those years, after her return, people let Ruby be. They walked a curved path to avoid her door. And so it was more than strange when ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How did Ruby's story change the way you view the world? What does the novel show us about the nature of trauma and the power of compassion?
  2. Celia copes with tragedy by putting her world in strict order, from her household to her church life. Ruby becomes lost to disorder. What accounts for their different approaches to emotional pain?
  3. At the heart of the novel is Ruby's vision of her children, and her vision of herself as a mother. How is she able to respond with a nurturing urge although no one nurtured her? Discuss the roles of mothers and fathers in Liberty.
  4. How did your understanding of the Dyboù shift throughout the novel? Do you believe that evil comes from the supernatural or spiritual, or that it is simply ...
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BookBrowse Review


This is an incredibly powerful and difficult debut novel, unlocking mechanisms that enable us to face real evil. How should we feel about books that force us to face distressing subject matters? Aren't we reading for fun and escapism? Being made to confront some of the most repugnant crimes in existence may feel brutal, but Bond handles her subject matter – particularly that of sexual abuse – with an admirable level of frankness and feeling.   (Reviewed by Lucy Rock).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Bracing....Undeniable....The echoes of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison are clear....A very strong first novel that blends tough realism with the appealing strangeness of a fever dream.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Debut novelist Bond knows the dark potentialities of her setting and explores them adroitly through each well-drawn character… [T]his book exhibits a dark and redemptive beauty. Bond’s prose is evocative of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, paying homage to the greats of Southern gothic literature.


"Starred Review. [A] powerful, explosive novel. Bond immerses readers in a fully realized world, one scarred by virulent racism and perverted rituals but also redeemed by love.

Author Blurb Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light
Reading Cynthia Bond's Ruby, you can't help but feel that one day this book will be considered a staple of our literature, a classic. Lush, deep, momentous, much like the people and landscape it describes, Ruby enchants not just with its powerful tale of lifelong quests and unrelenting love, but also with its exquisite language. It is a treasure of a book, one you won't soon forget.

Author Blurb Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander
Pure magic. Every line gleams with vigor and sound and beauty. Ruby somehow manages to contain the darkness of racial conflict and cruelty, the persistence of memory, the physical darkness of the piney woods and strange elemental forces, and weld it together with bright seams of love, loyalty, friendship, laced with the petty comedies of small-town lives. Slow tragedies, sudden light. This stunning debut delivers and delivers and delivers.

Author Blurb Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Ruby is a harrowing, hallucinatory novel, a love story and a ghost story about one woman's attempt to escape the legacy of violence in a small southern town. Cynthia Bond writes with a dazzling poetry that's part William Faulkner, part Toni Morrison, yet entirely her own. Ruby is encircled by shadows, but incandescent with light.

Author Blurb Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot
From the first sentence, Cynthia Bond's unforgettable debut novel, Ruby, took hold of me and it hasn't let go. Once I began reading I couldn't stop, awed by Bond's immense talent. Ruby's story is one of pain and beauty, damnation and redemption. Cynthia Bond has written a book everyone should read, about the power of love to overcome even the darkest of histories.

Author Blurb John Rechy, author of City of Night
A stunning debut. Ruby is unforgettable.

Reader Reviews


The writing is so descriptive that it transports you into the very soul of Ruby. I was especially moved by the development of relationships and the healing power of love as translated in the development of characters. There are also very disturbing ...   Read More


Impressive Debut
Bond’s impressive debut flourishing with exquisite language nails the complexities of the heart and survival in this deeply affecting tale. It is the 1940s in East Texas and young Ruby is plagued with a beauty tempting men to unspeakable evils; ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book


To the untrained eye, the strain of magic involving animal spirits and the use of charms and powders in Cynthia Bond's novel might seem to be a branch of voodoo - a belief system that finds its origins in the Western African religion of Vodun. It is crucial to note that Ruby is, in fact, along with others in the community, a practitioner of the oft-confused hoodoo.

Also known as 'conjure' or 'rootwork', hoodoo is a term used for a certain kind of African-American folkloric practice and belief. Having made their way across the Atlantic with the slave trade, the elements of hoodoo frequently merge with European and Native American folkloric traditions and often incorporate Biblical psalms. The principal difference between the two is that ...

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