Sensitive readers should be warned that much of the subject matter of Cynthia Bond’s debut novel, Ruby, is unflinchingly raw, grim and darkly disturbing—in particular, the ritual sexual abuse of children in a voodoo-infested rural Texas town. There were times when the evils unfolding on the pages of Bond’s horrifying—albeit impeccably crafted—story of one woman’s survival made it difficult for this reviewer to continue reading.
But those who have the stomach to forge ahead will be richly rewarded, as Ruby is undoubtedly the early work of a master storyteller whose literary lyricism is nothing short of pitch perfect. Despite the novel’s haunting subject matter, the amazing story of Ruby Bell is also infused with hope and light. While the tale is often unpacked in flashbacks featuring Ruby’s devastating childhood memories, the heart of the novel is the unfolding love story between Ruby and the noble and kind-hearted Ephram Jennings.
The year is 1963, and Ruby has returned to Liberty Township, Texas, after a debauched sabbatical in New York City, where after a hardscrabble start as a bisexual prostitute, she ultimately honed an exotic, glamorous and sanguine veneer as the plucky plaything of the rich and famous.
But Ruby’s urbane sophistication and designer clothes are not enough to ward off the haints and horrors that plague this fragile and psychologically damaged young woman upon her return to Liberty Township, where she is alternately shunned and sexually abused. Only Ephram, who has been raised by his stalwart and protective older sister Celia, is determined to save her. As Bond writes, “Ruby blinked and in an instant the past eleven years washed down her cheeks. Ephram led her back into the house and sat her on the edge of the bed. The day was slipping into evening. She looked at the where she had lived for over a decade. Late. When, she wondered, had it become so late?”
Most readers will find themselves drawn to Ruby despite the darkness of its heroine’s memories and experiences. Especially delightful are Bond’s spirited contingent of church ladies, whose laugh-out-loud shenanigans served up alongside a slice of Celia’s heavenly angel cake provide a welcome counterpoint to the darkness in this impressive debut novel.