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The Book of Ruth [Hardcover]

Jane Hamilton
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Nov 1988 0899197442 978-0899197449 1st

Pegged as the loser in a small-town family that doesn't have much going for it in the first place, Ruth grows up (unlovely and unloved) in the shadow of her mean and brilliant brother, Matt, trying to hold her own in a world of poverty and hard edges. The little happiness she finds is in reading the books on tape for old, blind Miss Finch and in the letters she receives from her adored Aunt Sid. Matt's genius for mathematics is his escape from Honey Creek, but Ruth, with no ticket out, cleaves instead to her tough and bitter mother, May, who continues to trickle out the last of her love to Matt even as he leaves them without a backward glance. Eventually Ruth meets and falls for Ruby, the sweet but slightly deranged man she marries and supports. Ruth spots stains at Trim 'N Tidy Dry Cleaners, bowls at the Town Lanes, and tries in vain to keep the peace between May, whose lashing criticisms blow through the cramped house with gale force, and Ruby, who spends his days getting stoned and watching reruns of Bewitched on TV. The arrival of Justy, Ruth and Ruby's newborn son, temporarily suspends everyone in mutual joy, but soon the baby becomes the object of their most heated contention. When the precarious household erupts in violence, Ruth is the only one who can piece their story together - and she gets at the truth in a manner at once ferocious, hilarious, and heartbreaking.

In this powerful, incandescent novel, Jane Hamilton has worked a small miracle: She has given voice to a young woman you have passed on the street a thousand times. Perhaps you have never noticed her, but the next time you see her, you will know who she is. Passionate in her commitment to life, Ruth is a stunning testament to the human capacity for mercy, compassion and love. The Book of Ruth is Hamilton's magnificent début.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; 1st edition (Nov 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0899197442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0899197449
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,483,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Hamilton is perfect at drama, keeping you hanging on from revelation to revelation. (Independent)

One of a handful of great American novelists - all women - to have emerged in the past decade, she possesses an unblinking view of the joys and miseries of small-town life, and a lyrical intuition of the mysteries of the soul that marks her as one of the most profound writers we now have. (The Times)

One of America's most vibrant young talents. (Daily Telegraph)

She belongs among the major writers of our time. (San Francisco Chronicle) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A powerful tale of frustrated dreams erupting in violence, of pain and of human understanding. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can I give it 6 stars? 4 Aug 2002
Format:School & Library Binding
This is one of the most touching books I have ever read, so much so than since finishing it about a month ago, I haven't wanted to pick up another book, because I don't want its memory to fade. I didn't get into it first time and gave up after one chapter, but my sister spurred me on, and I am so glad she did. I tells the story of Ruth and her relationships with those in her life and their own past histories also. Please please please read it. It is truely excellent. I also really enjoyed the same author's Map Of The World, which I would also totally recommend.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  324 reviews
93 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Terrible Beauty 23 Nov 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I finished "The Book of Ruth" last night and today I miss her terribly. I read some of the book's reviews on Amazon.com today, and I am amazed at how differently we see things, we humans. Because I cherished the experience of reading this book so deeply (and no, I wasn't abused), I can't imagine that those who didn't care for it could possibly have read the same book.

I make an assumption about Ruth from the very first chapter: that she is very mildly retarded or in some way subtly disabled. For me, her behaviors and perceptions are off just enough to imply some missing cerebral link. And this is what is so extraordinary to me: that someone without all resources at her disposal can yet perceive herself and her world with such precious, ingenuous, brilliant vision ... well, I would feel honored to have her as a friend.

To write from the point of view of a retarded person makes for such creative use of language and imagery. Ruth is like an idiot savant. She is all the best a human being can be, tireless in her effort to find good and truth in her experiences, resilient beyond belief. I think she puts us all to shame, "healthy" though we be.

Depressing? No, no, no. That's too easy. I am reminded of Yeats: "...a terrible beauty is born." I am in awe of Ruthy. I laugh through my tears and am comforted.
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most moving books I've ever read. 27 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I'm from a very small town, and when I was in high school, I actually had a boyfriend like Ruby - thank God I ran screaming for 1,000 miles before I stopped! This book spoke directly to me and mesmerized me from start to finish. Ruth was not retarded or pathetic - she was living the only life she knew with the only people available to her. I can only imagine how many other lonely & intelligent young women are living in her shoes - wasted, hopeless, potential completely unrealized, put down by everybody they know. I've recommended this book to every serious reader I know.
82 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hamilton keeps you engaged 26 July 2000
By Rob Darrah - Published on Amazon.com
The Book of Ruth is one of those books that is very thought provoking. It is not exactly the most upbeat book that I have read, but Ruth is in her own way trying to survive the best that she can.
Ruth's main tormentor in the book is her mother, May, who is so consumed by negativity that it is really pointless to try to argue with her. Ruth learns to survive her mother's negativity with the dream of visiting her Aunt Sid, who is May's youngest sister. Aunt Sid is like the polar opposite of May.
Unfortunately, Ruth has to deal with her brother, Matt, who is a math prodigy. May always seems to be more preoccupied with Matt. Thus, Ruth is always second fiddle. When Matt leaves for college, May still thinks that Matt can do nothing wrong. Even though, he basically cuts off communication with their family.
Ruth does eventually hook up with Ruby, who is a very emotionally disturbed man. They form a unique bond that eventually leads to marriage, which leads to Ruth, Ruby and May living under the same roof.
All I can say is that the ending is unbelievable. I could see the signs of major tension, but the ending still caught me off guard. I knew that I would finish reading the book, but I had to put it down after the shock in order to get some fresh air.
Hamilton has this knack for making you believe that things cannot get any worse, but then they do and you still cannot put the book down.
I was glad that there was some hope for Ruth at the end of the book. I'm not sure if Hamilton is trying to emphasize the fact that what we endure will make us stronger, but that is definitely what I get out of this book.
I would recommend this book only if you want something that is thought provoking and engaging. If you are in the mood for something light, then this is not the book for you. The Book of Ruth will definitely open your eyes up to someone who has had a rough life. Jane Hamilton has done a good job.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliantly crafted story of truth and thanksgiving 30 Aug 2000
By K. Carpenter - Published on Amazon.com
Before reading _The Book of Ruth_, I read many of the reviews here at Amazon. I had already made the purchase months ago after I saw the book on display at my local bookstore but I only just now got around to reading it this week. It was only after the fact, that I discovered it was an Oprah's Book Club selection. I never watch her, so I decided to check out the Amazon site to see if this book was worth reading.
I have to say, now that I've finished the book, I'm baffled at the number of people who found this story to be so depressing they couldn't bring themselves to finish it. I can only think that perhaps it was too much for some people to handle emotionally. Maybe it hit too close to home and they just aren't ready for it yet. To me, this story is a compassionate look -- never condescending or patronizing -- at a family so many of us can find in our own extended families and in our communities. I'm even more shocked that people would harshly criticize Jane Hamilton for writing a story that made them feel sad. Life's not an episode of the Brady Bunch. Bad things happen to all people and it's only human to feel sadness about those events. Why would you even think about reading a book with a review on the back cover that refers to the story as "a disturbing and beautiful book" if you were looking for an all-around happy tale?
Let me tell you what I see in _The Book of Ruth_ and why I see it as a story of hope...
I see some of the kids with whom I attended elementary school who were shunned by teachers and students alike because they were not able to keep up financially, socially or academically with their peers. Many of us are privileged enough to have enough money to provide for all our wants and needs. Likewise, most of us have healthy minds and bodies which allow us to work through much of what life throws at us. Too often, however, we take those gifts for granted and harshly criticize those who don't possess those same blessings and don't seem to know how to get a better life for themselves. The shallow and self-absorbed, the fearful will look at those people and think, "Ah, they're just poor because they're lazy." Or, "Why bother? She's not smart enough to get it anyway." Forget the qualifiers... they're people. And, until you know them, really know them, you're wrongly assuming a lot when you label them like that.
I see my sister and her girls in the characters of May and Ruth. So many times in my life I've wondered how hard it has really been for them back living in a dumpy little trailer in a small town in the northern U.S. Where did they find the strength to overcome circumstances they could never have avoided and what has happened to their spirits when they've suffered the repercussions of poor decisions they've made in their lives?
I see myself in Aunt Sid. I live over a thousand miles away from my family and every time I hear the news from home about my sister, I want so much to just rescue her. Sometimes I think she needs rescuing from herself, but also from the meanness of those around her who are so quick to judge her. But then I realize that we don't really even know each other anymore and it makes it hard to rise over the wall that distance and time and experience has built up between us over the years. I shake my head and wonder what's going to happen to them if things don't get better. It just seems like our lives have become two paths running in opposite directions and that we'll never find a common intersection again. And thinking about all of that is what made me sad when I read _The Book of Ruth_. It made me realize that sometimes just because you're family it doesn't mean that you will ever really know each other. At least that's how it has felt to me for the past 30 years.
Reading this book gave me hope. It gave me hope that my sister and her family might be able to change their situation somehow for the better. I'm not delusional; I know that the odds still aren't running in their favor and I know that they will probably not become pillars of the community. But at least they still might be able to find some happiness amidst what has now been over 25 years of almost daily doses of pain, humiliation, fear and heartache.
It also gives me hope for myself. It gives me hope that my family, which has suffered a lot of isolation and alienation in my lifetime, might be able to be better. If you've never grown up in a family (or within viewing distance of a family) like the one Ruth describes in this novel, you can't possibly know what that life does to a person. There are a lot of people out there who would count themselves lucky to deal with what you consider to be problems in your life. And, for that, you're fortunate. Just be thankful.
A review on the back cover of the book describes this as a story about "resiliency." That's about the most apt description I could imagine. Read about Ruth and you'll see how strong a tender person has to be in order to live.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Absolute Perfect Novel 28 Sep 2006
By Kim Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Reading Jane Hamilton's "Book of Ruth" is like diving into a sea of outrageous dysfunction. It is like drowning. It is like observing from below the surface and unable to do a damn thing about the events happening before your eyes.

If one is a writer, The Book of Ruth is the absolute perfect novel to study--because it is structurally superb, beautiful, full of foreshadowing (burnt black birds hanging upside down the telephone line), flowing with imagery, honesty,and more importantly, the characters are likable, hatable, and exquisitely designed.

Jane Hamilton has taken a dysfunctional, uneducated family--and through her characteration and mastery, made us care about what happens to them; made us part of the family, even when we didn't care to be there. Hamilton takes a character like mean old May, and causes us to feel empathy for her, even though May is unbearably vicious.

"The Book of Ruth" is about families we all know--but do not invite into our lives because they smell, use the wrong vocabulary, forget to brush their teeth, and make their careers at the dry-cleaners. These people are undesirable,invisible, and sit in the back of the bus.

But Hamilton makes us live with them, get to know them, understand them, hate them, and in the end, love them.

***I was surprised by the other reviews--as I thought The Book of Ruth was deliciously stunning and overflowing with insight.
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