- Oprah's Book Club Selection
The Book of Ruth: A Novel Paperback – Dec 1 1989
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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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Top Customer Reviews
I picked up the book thinking I'd love it because I have a memory of seeing Oprah talking to the author years ago telling her she loved the character of Ruth. I was expecting to love her as well but I didn't. At best, I felt ambivalent towards her. When the murder occurred, I was happy that something finally happened because nothing seemed to happen in the character's lives.
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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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 morePublished on Jan. 6 2007 by talkaboutquality
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 morePublished on July 7 2004 by Pam Bak
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 morePublished on May 30 2004 by Ashley Mitchell
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 morePublished on May 25 2004
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 morePublished on May 11 2004 by D. Desantis
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 alotPublished on May 2 2004 by Andreacyatrousis
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
I thought the narration was good, but unconvincing that Ruth was supposed to be mentally deficient... Read morePublished on May 1 2004
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