by Cynthia Bond
Published by Hogarth
Available on April 29, 2014
Reviewed by Amanda
4 Out of 5 Stars
I received an advanced reader's copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.
The small town of Liberty, Texas, offers its residents anything but liberty. People find themselves bound by secrets, both theirs and those of others. It's a place where God's word is in everyone's mouth, but it's the devil who rules their hearts--and he roams the woods at night. With hypocritical righteousness and dark intentions, the town turns as a whole on Ruby Bell. The beautiful and spirited Ruby is a modern day Eve whose beauty lures in both men and women, while putting her own soul in peril. When Ruby attempts to escape the darkness of Liberty, it's not long before her past draws her back into the town's clutches.
After her return to Liberty from New York City, Ruby's confrontation with the past draws her into madness. She becomes a wild thing, existing on the fringes of society, used by men to satisfy their lust and shunned by the women. Ephram Jennings, a quiet, patient man who still sees Ruby's hidden value, sets about saving her soul with the gift of an Angel Food cake and, in this simple gesture, takes on the prejudices of an entire town. Through Ephram's patient ministrations, we learn of the personal demons that haunt Ruby and of the tangled web of lies and violence that ultimately connect everyone in Liberty. While the narrative can seem somewhat disjointed and sudden revelations about characters can at first seem incongruous with what we already know of them, the reader can be assured that these seemingly disparate threads will ultimately be drawn together into a coherent portrait of a community destroying itself from the inside out.
Using poetic language and brutal, unrelenting scenes of physical and sexual violence, Ruby makes the intra-racial racism within an early 20th century black community tangible and reveals the dangers that come with spiritually cannibalizing one of its own. There are certainly overtones of Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison here, but Cynthia Bond is never guilty of cheap imitation and tells a story that is uniquely her own. Particularly inventive is the use of a supernatural element to explain how the desire for or claiming of "white power" within the black community transfers hate and prejudice to those who were once its targets.
This is not an easy book to read and those with a low tolerance for rape, pedophilia, and graphic sexual scenes need not apply. While I sometimes found the frequency of these scenes a bit over the top ("Please, just give me one, ONE character who had a healthy, wholesome childhood," I mentally begged), it's made bearable as the novel ends with the possibility of hope and redemption.