spock: logic is sexy

Book Post: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Ruby, the title character of the book, is a black woman who fled to New York City when she was young but ultimately comes home to a black township in East Texas. Adjusting to life in the South after the freedoms of the North is harder than Ruby realizes it will be, and the pressure of her barely suppressed childhood traumas quickly results in severe mental illness (or, to be more accurate, something modern readers will quickly recognize as mental illness, while the townsfolk mostly blame her for "not keeping herself under control"). Ruby herself believes that she is haunted. As a child, she witnessed terrible things happening to other children, and now the souls of those children flock to her for protection. Readers get the choice of how to interpret these "haints" -- as a symbolic representation of being trapped in a moment of trauma, or as literal ghosts that cling to Ruby's skirts. The situation comes to a head when Ephram, who loved her from afar as a child, sets himself as Ruby's protector amid fierce opposition from his ultra-religious sister.

This book contains serious triggers for rape and child abuse, both of which are referenced below the cut.

This is an AMAZING book, but it struck one false note: the story of Ephram's father, Reverend Jennings. At first, the Reverend seems like a typical male character for this era: he's friendly and generous with his congregation, but cruel with words and fists at home. I believed that he would belittle his wife and beat his son for kissing a boy.

Eventually, though, Reverend Jennings is revealed as the "axis of evil" on which the whole book turns. Ephram's mother was sent to a mental hospital when Ephram was a child. Later, we find out it's because his mother caught Reverend Jennings performing voodoo rituals, leading a cult, sacrificing stolen farm animals, and molesting children in the woods. And, um, couldn't the author have chosen just ONE of those things? Later, you find out his back story: he set his father on fire and dismembered his mother. And again, maybe choose just ONE of those things?

The point is that the Reverend becomes the Dybou, an evil ghost who haunts Ruby and tries to consume her. But I really think the author could have gotten exactly the same story if he had been a pedophile who terrorized his family and committed his wife to hide his shame. I read an interview with the author, and she says he is "the pain and anger and fear of [the town] whittled to a sharp point." I can understand him as a warning that people who have swallowed so much trauma begin inflicting it on others...maybe? But I also feel like I shouldn't have needed to read an interview to understand the author's intentions, and I'm really curious what others think if they've read it.