Have you read The Book of Ruth?

I have come to realize that taking time off something you planned to stay committed to for a long time can actually ruin your chances of ; a) ever coming back or b) ever remaining as committed if you do come back. This is my experience as I struggle through this review. You see, I am the kind of person that likes to finish things but I sometimes I get distracted (I would actually feel better if someone out there affirms they experience it too). I tend to start something with very high expectations and great vision (I have series of journals where ideas from many years ago have fallen into deep coma) and crash somewhere between “This is going great” and “this is stressful, let me take a break”.

I have decided to trudge on nonetheless so here I am with a review of Jane Hamilton’s first book “The Book of Ruth”. It will not be a long review so here we go then:

The Book of Ruth gave me no reason to think that it would have an unhappy (almost) ending. You pick up this book and as you stroll through the first page (I usually laze through the first page of a book because I get ready to either flee or dive in) you are thinking “What is Jane talking about”? The narration takes off with a character I later find to be Ruth and she tells me (it actually feels like a whisper) “I’m the only one who tells the story from beginning to end”. Of course I am curious I want to hear this story, so I dive in.

Ruth is a patient narrator she takes her time to tell me that Honey Creek is way up in the very north of Illinois and even warns that I will miss the town if I drive through listening to my favourite song on the radio or telling a story about my neighbor! How gracious of Ruth. As the story progresses Ruth reveals that her father left when she was ten, she calls him Elmer and she calls her mum, May. I soon find that May is quite a mean person and this gravely affects Ruth’s whole life. Ruth has a brother Matt who is smart and May coddles him while Ruth is called a retard and treated shabbily. Of course it is Ruth who gets to stay back in this small town while Matt’s brain takes him out of town to fame and success. Ruth tries to make friends in school but the girls take her vulnerability for granted and in exchange for friends Ruth allows them lift up her dress on the playground and pull down her underpants to look at her privates.

Imagine that?!


Anyway, Ruth likes her aunt Sidney, she is her confidante- a safe shelter in the exchange of letters. It is from her Aunt that Ruth learns about her mother’s life before she had Ruth-the loss of her true love and her sacrifices for her family. Elmer is Ruth’s mother’s second husband ten years after the death of her first husband in a war.

As much as I would like to run through the whole book I want to rush ahead to how Ruth got married to Ruby who she met at 16. Ruby who takes her virginity clumsily in a car after asking her “do you want to see my little one-eyed snake”? Events follow quickly after that as Ruth becomes his girlfriend though she tells him she doesn’t want sex (again) until they get married. Ruth’s mother is not supportive but who knows perhaps she could see that Ruby was bad news, that he probably had hidden scars and a past that hurts too much to talk about. Ruth’s mother is a controlling, sharp tongued, hard woman.

The wedding takes place and married life begins for Ruth only that they are living with May and her toxic tongue, a mother-in-law that has absolutely no regard for Ruby because he’s lazy, dirty and living in her house. Ruby is not okay.

The reader will sense this fact from the way he silently takes in May’s goading-no one can take all that tongue lashing and not break. Jane Hamilton is not in a hurry though; she takes the story carefully, preparing the dough like a patient cook giving Ruby enough time to gather pressure, permitting May to push him closer and closer to the edge; Ruby expresses moments of suppressed anger finally erupting as the book hurtles to an unpredictable end one Sunday when everything comes to a head. Ruth tells me “I swear when I looked into Ruby’s eyes they were the yellow of a sky right before a fierce summer storm”. When the events finally unravel there is a dead body, a lot of blood, and a thoroughly traumatized child.


I like this book for a lot of reasons: the style of narration was perfect for the kind of tale being told, the characters were interesting, each had something unique about them but the one reason for the “unputdownable” nature of The Book of Ruth is the character of Ruth herself, resilient Ruth, Ruth with big dreams of a happily ever after, Ruth who doesn’t really seem to realize how much damage her mother caused until the tragic end. Ruth- who has gumption in her heart to face life again after the most traumatic Sunday of her life.

This book scores a 9 on a scale of 10 and there you have it.

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