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The Book of Ruth: A Novel [Paperback]

Jane Hamilton
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (248 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 1 1989 Oprah's Book Club
Winner of the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award  for best first novel, this exquisite book  confronts real-life issues of alienation and violence  from which the author creates a stunning testament  to the human capacity for mercy, compassion and  love.

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From Amazon

Oprah Book Club® Selection, November 1996: The Book of Ruth is a virtuoso performance and that's precisely why it can be excruciating to read. Author Jane Hamilton leads us through the arid life of Ruth Grey, who extracts what small pleasures and graces she can from a tiny Illinois town and the broken people who inhabit it. Ruth's prime tormentor is her mother May, whose husband died in World War II and took her future with him. More poor familial luck has given Ruth a brother who is a math prodigy; Matt sucks up any stray attention like a black hole. Ruth is left to survive on her own resources, which are meager. She struggles along, subsisting on crumbs of affection meted out by her Aunt Sid and, later, her screwed-up husband Ruby. Hamilton has perfect pitch. So perfect that you wince with pain for confused but fundamentally good Ruth as she walks a dead-end path. The book ends with the prospect of redemption, thank goodness--but the tale is nevertheless much more bitter than sweet.

From Publishers Weekly

"In her first novel, Hamilton takes on a challenge too large for her talents," said PW of this tale about a Midwestern woman who is loyal to her wounded and wounding family. "Hamilton evokes Ruth's character marvelously, but others as seen by her are incompletely rendered."
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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WHAT it begins with, I know finally, is the kernel of meanness in people's hearts. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars wow! Jan. 10 2004
I was amazed last year to discover Jane Hamilton. I'm really glad I disregarded my initial impulse _not_ to read _Book of Ruth_ because it was an Oprah pick (it's a prejudice I have, and I should know better than to make gross generalizations). It's like nothing I've read since _The Sound and the Fury_, and although I (understandably) hesitated to mention Hamilton and Faulkner in the same thought, there it is.
For once, my ability to put my thoughts into words may fail me in describing the engrossment with which I enjoyed this novel. A surprise from a friend of 4 years' standing was her telling me that she had read it, too, and that, while she grudgingly admitted that it was "probably well-written" (I'd never heard her make a value judgment on her reading before--she was always amazingly self-deprecating about her "beach-level" reading habit), it was also a "downer." I wasn't hooked in my reading of _Ruth_ at that point, and almost decided to abandon the effort based on her comment. I'm an avid reader, but I don't _look_ for depressing novels.
The novel is not depressing. It's beautiful in its evocation of what p.c.-speech calls "marginal" characters. The power with which the effects of the mother's (and, horrifically, a father's) personality are conveyed is very affecting. The optimism, and--if the pun can be pardoned--the ruthlessness with which the daughter (and a son) nonetheless perseveres in her/his attainment of all the riches that every life offers are conveyed with no less impact. The novel truly amazes in its depictions of the squalor, hope, passions, and horror unthinkably (and unthinkingly) wrought upon _present_ human relations by _past_ human relations. A strong reader will come away from _Ruth_ with some of the optimism, in wonder at the persistence of the human need for love and the many forms it can take. A reader less strong might put _Ruth_ aside without being able to finish it. Both will remember the experience.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Like eating raw chicken... Jan. 2 2004
This novel works backwards. It all starts in the present, in the aftermath of something horrible, and Ruth starts telling the story of her life, as far back as she can remember.
The book opens with Ruth under the refuge of her aunt Sid, who reflects on how Ruth is intelligent, when in fact it was assumed she was an idiot. Ruth blames it on her lack of education, on her poor vocabulary. This is true: how many people cannot speak English properly and some assume they are dumb?
Ruth had an unfortunate childhood, with a cold mother and an absent father. By the way, it took me a little while to realize May and Elmer were her parents, as Ruth chose to refer to them by their first names, not as mom and dad. Ruth did not know any better, and fell for the first guy who paid attention to her. Unfortunately, it happened to be Ruby. Ruth and Ruby, what a couple! She is perfectly fine with him being a lazy slob. Her hunger for a normal life is so great that she can do without those ingredients that make your life normal. Even after Ruby shows his true colors (I won't spoil the plot here), she excuses him and blames something else for his actions: drugs, his drowning accident, his father's beatings... Her codependency on Ruby is so deep that Ruth gets mad at her brother and aunt after reading a letter where they describe her marriage as a disaster in the making.
This book was quite brutal and harsh. Do not expect a happy ending.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, yet strange July 31 2003
This book is good in that it is very intriguing to read- it makes you want to keep on reading until you get to the gruesome end. Full of twisted characters and a horrifyingly strange plot, this book is shocking. Ruth is a girl who is not very bright, and she is outshined by her genius younger brother, who goes to Boston to a great university in order to study physics and astronomy. May, Ruth's mother, always belitted Ruth and called her stupid. She made Ruth do all of the dirty work while she pampered her younger son, Matt. Ruth befriends a trashy girl with a golden heart named Daisy. Ruth works at the dry cleaners as a living because she isn't too bright. Her mother is still mean to her even though she is grown up and Ruth lives a miserable life. She trusts in Daisy and her Aunt Sid, who lives in a different city but has always written to her often since she was a little girl. Ruth meets a low class man named Ruby and marries him. They live in Ruth's house. They have a little boy named Justin and try to live happily with Ruth, but she is always picking on Ruby because he drinks and is lazy.
You would think that I had pity for Ruth, but I didn't have pity for her because she had a twisted, dirty mind and did not want to better herself as a person.
The book shows a different point of view on religion. Ruth has pretty much lost her childhood faith in God and thinks of him as a myth that only little children believe in, kind of like Santa Claus. She is resentful of the pastor talking about Jesus all the time. She doesn't believe that there is a heaven or a hell. Basically, she is an atheist.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Excruciating Brutality of Life and Truth July 13 2003
The Book of Ruth is an experience in reading I will never forget. Though a review on the back of the book refers to it as a human comedy, I totally disagree. Written like an autobiography, The Book of Ruth chronicles the intense life of Ruth Grey. She lived with her rude mother May and her younger brother Matt. Ruth was a person with very low self esteem and she wasn't brilliant either. Matt was a genius who always acted superior to Ruth and stuck up to their mother and their mother would always show favoritism to Matt. Eventually, Matt went off to a great college, and Ruth became a dry clean worker with her mother and they lived together. Soon after, Ruth marries a cheap man named Ruby and they end up living a crumbling life with May. The novel goes through the life of Ruth with her struggles, thoughts, friends, and her very few happy moments. By the time you reach the beginning of the ending it immediately and unexpectedly comes at you. The novel's portrayel of truth and life is so perfect it is haunting and unbearable. The conclusions are mesmerizing and powerful. A painfully honest and astoundingly gorgeus book that must not be neglected. Strongly Reccomend!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Ever wonder how people survive reality?
Did you ever think about how when you see some "sensational, human interest" tragedy on the evening news, that there are real people in that story? Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2007 by talkaboutquality
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing but wonderfully written
I had this book sitting on my shelf for sometime since Oprah first recommended it. I happen to pick it up recently to take to the beach. Read more
Published on July 7 2004 by Pam Bak
4.0 out of 5 stars A stunning novel
This book is definately set at a slow pace and rich in confimration of Ruth's harsh reality. It is incerdibly well written and thorough of this woman's life. Read more
Published on May 30 2004 by Ashley Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written
This book has been in my bookcase for several years waiting to be read. After seeing the made-for-tv movie version of this book a couple of weeks ago, I decided to pick it up and... Read more
Published on May 25 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Read!
I read this book many years ago but it left such an impact on me. I still remember the words from the first paragraph and the horrific ending. Read more
Published on May 11 2004 by D. Desantis
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book
It's about a young girl who has a mean mom.It gives the feel of you are not alone to abuse victims.Helped me alot
Published on May 2 2004 by Andreacyatrousis
1.0 out of 5 stars Did not like the book
I belong to a book club, only one person was able to finish the book and she only like the endng. I thought it was boring, it did not hold my interest.
Published on May 2 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars unconvincing...
I thought the narration was good, but unconvincing that Ruth was supposed to be mentally deficient... Read more
Published on May 1 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much unnecessary violence!
I didn't like reading this book. I'm glad I'm finished.
What's the point???
Young girl is born into a disastrous family,
gets involved in a disastrous marriage. Read more
Published on March 13 2004 by L. Hall
4.0 out of 5 stars I put down WOW in my journal!
WOW Is all I can say. I don't want to give the story away, so I won't say more. This book is def one NOT to miss! I will add this one to my library one day.
Published on Feb. 28 2004 by Tonya Speelman
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