Ruby is a story of great pain – but also hope and possibility – set in Liberty, a small East Texas town. Ruby Bell, in 1974, is “buck-crazy. Howling, half-naked mad.” The novel describes how Ruby has reached this point and what, if anything, Ephram Jennings can to do to help.
Ephram bags groceries for a living and lives with his sister Celia, who has acted as a mother to him since their own mother was shut up in an asylum after walking to church naked on Sunday morning. It takes Ephram eleven years after Ruby’s return to Liberty to decide to take her an angel cake, but having decided, he is not a man easily diverted.
The story weaves seamlessly across the decades of the 20th century. The lives of Ephram’s parents, Ephram, Ruby, and others intersect and separate, gradually revealing the dark secrets of Liberty and the horrendous abuse suffered by Ruby through her childhood and beyond.
Two things really set this novel apart: Bond’s mastery of language, and her fearlessness. At points the novel is not easy to read. Just when you feel Ruby’s story cannot become more harrowing or awful, it does. But in a story of great darkness there is also immense lyrical beauty both in Bond’s immaculate prose and in the promise of redemption embodied in the character of Ephram.
Arguably, the story lingers a little too long before Ephram arrives at Ruby’s home, but that’s a minor quibble. Despite the challenging nature of many scenes from Ruby’s childhood, there is also much humour to be enjoyed in the small town lives of Bond’s characters. And with such dark beauty in her descriptions and yet such hope for the future, it is the good things that linger in the mind after reading, despite the horror.