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The Book of Ruth

door Jane Hamilton

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3,437442,784 (3.53)52
Ruth, a young woman living in a rural Illinois town, looks back on the people who have shaped her life, including her runaway father, shrewish mother, and crazy husband.
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  fmc712 | Feb 18, 2021 |
There’s no polite way to describe this book, and some that are too polite. A hard-ass Victorian would hate it thoroughly, and many a critic will just pat themselves on the back like, Look at me reading a book. In general people refuse to look from the crime looking out, instead of the police or the press looking in, which means it runs against the grain, in some ways, although in others it’s deeply dyed in ordinariness. It’s like the opposite of the news, in other words.

It’s familiarity turned into a crime, without the external voice telling them what they’re like. The first-person aspect of it is central to the way that the whole thing is presented.

The errors that lead to crime are so gradual and commonplace that much of it is simple and easy to read. You hate your mom; you pick a bad boyfriend. You cultivate the veneer; you by turns idolize and burn with jealousy towards those not in the same prison as you. You don’t see anything wrong, do you?

At the same time, in the end it’s not about looking away from the mirror.

.......................

“The day I’m working towards wasn’t so very long ago. I’m about to tell how it went so everyone will know. I’d like to think it won’t happen again. Once is enough for the whole earth. It shouldn’t recur and if I tell about the day, step by step, people can understand certain warning signs. Then nothing like it will take place again, not ever. I imagine, when I’m sitting here, that I’m ringing a bell, and someone will hear, but to tell the truth, I also know that it isn’t very often that people change their ways. Still, I have to ring the bell, keep it sounding.” (p. 253/294 nook edition).

I think a lot of people would either see this as fluffy dross (“your life’s not important enough to write about”), or, indeed, as a caramelized treat for the mind (“oh, so I reached the end, great”); I’m slightly distressed and greatly mystified by this.

I think that it’s about halfway between a comedy and the Holocaust, you know.

It’s like a sci-fi action flick, except nothing physically improbable happens, and you’re spared the balletic glitter of how rich you are, and the subsequent coming-down alienation realization that, indeed, you are not.

In other words, it’s the opposite. “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.”

To me it is a prison.... and to her.
  smallself | Dec 1, 2019 |
Read this book for the characters, not the plot. Hamilton's narrator is simple and comical and endearing. For example, her description of an elderly neighbor from her childhood: "[Mrs. Foote] had several black moles on her face and breasts so big if they had hands at the end of them they might be useful." (p. 80)

Read this book for heartbreak, not for happiness. If you're looking for a light read, this isn't it. But it's damn fine fiction. ( )
  JodiLEK | Mar 31, 2018 |
meh. ( )
  SMBrick | Feb 25, 2018 |
Ruth is a small-town young woman with not too much going for her. She works at the local dry cleaner; she and her husband live with her mother; she goes bowling on a Saturday night. Ruth's Aunt Sid has made a life for herself as a musician and teacher and their written correspondence gives Ruth a glimpse into life outside her small town.

The author has a beautiful writing style. She paints a picture of a complicated mother-daughter relationship and a troubled marriage as seen through Ruth's eyes. She has created a character who put me in mind of Rohinton Mistry's two beggars in 'A Fine Balance' - no matter how life kicks you in the teeth, you accept and carry on because, well, what else is there to do?

Toward the end of the book, a family tragedy changes Ruth's life - perhaps for the better. But I never really got the feeling that she felt she needed to be saved.

I liked this book rather a lot. It's pretty slow moving, but every page can be savoured. ( )
  EvelynBernard | Mar 7, 2017 |
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Ruth, a young woman living in a rural Illinois town, looks back on the people who have shaped her life, including her runaway father, shrewish mother, and crazy husband.

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