Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Graphic, bold, riveting, unflinching, dark, difficult and lovely can all be used to describe Cynthia Bond’s debut novel Ruby. At its heart, it’s a love story – Ephram Jennings loves Ruby Bell and that’s all you really need to know. It’s a one-sided love, one which Ephram suffers for, but he’s not willing to compromise. He’s willing to withstand squalor and shunning for her, he would wait years for her. He does both. There’s no doubt this dark, haunting novel can be hard to process as Ruby grapples with the very act of living.


Beyond the love Ephram has for Ruby, the novel tells the story of racism, sexual abuse, and religious intolerance in Liberty, Texas during the 1960s. Ruby was born in Liberty, Texas at the wrong time to a seemingly cursed family. After escaping to New York, Ruby returns to east Texas a broken, crazed woman. Some say she deserves it, others pity the hand she’s been dealt, but there’s no doubt she’s the center of gossip and ridicule in small town Texas.

I find it difficult to discuss this multi-layered novel. When that happens, I often rely on others who can say it better than I ever could hope to – in this case, John Irving. I found this novel to be reminiscent of one of my favorite Irving sentiments:  “Human beings are remarkable – at what we can learn to live with. If we couldn’t get strong from what we lose, and what we miss, and what we want and can’t have, then we couldn’t ever get strong enough, could we?”

Ultimately, Ruby is a grim, but beautiful story that will draw you in and tear you up. It is not a tale for the tender-hearted or for those who are easily saddened by the atrocities humans can inflict on each other. In an essay written by the author, Bond explains “My own history of abuse informed this novel, as well. I joined a support group very early on in my recovery and met an amazing woman who had survived the unthinkable. She had lived through some of the things that I write about in Ruby. Then, in completely disconnected instances, I heard similar stories from women who had never met my friend, sharing the same details, the exact same experiences. Somewhere along the way, working with at risk and homeless youth in Los Angeles for 15 years, living with my own abuse, and hearing stories of such pain and torment, I thought—If you can bear to have lived it, I can at least bear to listen. Ephram Jennings says that in some form to Ruby later in the novel. I asked that of myself while working on this book.” So if Bond can bear to write it, based on the experiences of people she’s met (as well as her own), then I can bear to read it. It was a beautiful, important experience (and very, very grim). 4/5, memorable. For a better expressed opinion than mine, check out the reviews on The Gilmore Guide to Books and The Daily Dosage. What what the last novel you  found difficult to process?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Angel Food Cake

Pair this novel with Angel Food Cake, read the story to find out why.



24 thoughts on “Ruby by Cynthia Bond

    1. Thank you 🙂

      I always feel like it’s a bit of a cop out when I say something like “powerful book, read it, the end”. I feel the need to be more profound than that, but I had nothing else to say…


  1. Meep. The angel food cake. This book tore me up, but goodness gracious the writing is bananas good. I still haven’t been able to put everything into coherent words, and every time someone else does it so well it becomes less likely I will.


    1. Isn’t it? So depressing though, made more depressing by the fact that most of this happened. And people wonder how I can read horror, at least it’s not likely to be real!


  2. I love books like this, but always wonder why it is that I do. Nice review!

    The last tough book I read was Our Daily Bread by Lauren B. Davis.


    1. Me too, I love books that ultimately depress me. But Why? One book left me with the worst book hangover/depression state for two weeks. Why submit myself to that kind of torture?


  3. I really love the way the author puts this: “If you can bear to have lived it, I can at least bear to listen.” I often struggle to explain to some people why we ought to read emotionally grueling books from time to time, and that’s it.

    Lovely post.


    1. Thank you. I loved what the author said too and I think it’s very true. Maybe that’s why readers are supposed to be more empathetic…?


  4. Thanks for the shout out but your review is beautiful! That Irving quote basically sums up these tortured characters perfectly. And the Angel Food Cake? :(( That book is still haunting me. So many heavy ones lately…I need a mood lifter.


    1. Thank you (and you’re welcome!). I was just approved for The Future for Curious People on Netgalley. I’m thinking that might be a good one to pick up next.


  5. Setting aside the fact that I now want cake, this book sounds like a good one to curl up with on a rainy day – grim and layered. I’ve read a few other good reviews about it so I’ll certainly try to read it.


  6. Your review is so eloquent and I agree, this is a tough novel to talk about it. At the very least, Bond’s power made it notable.

    And that cake? Seriously?! Now I need to go make it.


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