The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Oprah’s Book Club! Hemingway award winner! Should be fantastic, right?
Well, it is very well written. Certainly it is a very in depth story of the life of a woman growing up poor in the rural midwest in the 60s and 70s. The characters are very well fleshed out for better and (mostly) worst and the main character does a fine job herself at connecting the dots from one generation to another and seeing how their lives were all intertwined. For that quality of the writing and character development I can rate this highly.
But, my god is this one hell of a depressing tale! You want to like Ruth – to root for her – but at every opportunity to redeem herself or to gain some clarity or to show that is NOT turning into her dreadful mother – she disappoints. Yet the picture you are given into her own mind is one of someone who wants to believe she is smart and wise and has the courage to be someone different. And then she isn’t. The tragic ending is quite inevitable. It’s only a manner of when and how. Her reaction to it all is again, a huge missed opportunity. In the end I was far more curious how her friend Daisy and her brother Matt’s tales continued. I gave up on Ruth entirely and no longer cared.
So, the title of this post is inspired by my conflict over not just this book, but also Wuthering Heights. For about the first half of WH, I was struggling to get through it. I didn’t feel connected to any characters and the overall atmosphere of it in my mind anyway was so dreary that I really had to talk myself into slogging through another chapter. At some point it did snag me though and thankfully through all that darkness, there was a ray of sunlight and hope at the end. It did redeem itself. But I can also understand why high schoolers think it is utter drudgery!
Then there was The Book of Ruth – seriously I can understand the other reviewers on Goodreads who just flat out skewered it and gave it only 1 or 2 stars. I’d like to give it 2.5 instead of 3, but that’s not an option.
I guess it all comes down to – what makes a book GOOD or flat out GREAT to you?
Personally I don’t think I should be looking at the cover and scowling at the idea of spending more time with the people and the story. My curiosity basically overcame my disgust not just with this last book, but also with Zombie. In the end I guess I feel good that I finished it – kind of like finishing a marathon I suppose, but I took no joy in it. And that’s the thing isn’t it? Good stories on TV, movies or in books should of course have their downs to make their ups have more impact. But really, there need to be moments of joy, don’t there? Otherwise why spend any time with it? Doesn’t real life have enough potential for tragedy and heartache and humiliation and anger and evil as it is?
Those of you who enjoy the darker tales – please share why. I really am interested in a different perspective on this.
I will answer your question “What makes a book great?” For me, it is a book that I know I can read again and enjoy just as much the second time around, because reading it once didn’t do it justice. My Goodreads star system is built around this premise – the only books that I will give five stars to are those that I have either read more than once or plan to read again. My five-star books have little in common – some are fiction, some are non-fiction, but all have one characteristic in common – they are so exceptional that I can’t wait to read them again and enjoy them from another angle.
The Book of Ruth was not one that I personally enjoyed…I don’t know if I ever put it on Goodreads, but if I had, it would be a two star “it was OK” book for me.
I occasionally read the darker tales but there’s usually a reason behind it. Either someone recommended it (or gave me the book), or it was a pick for the book club I was in, or the subject matter interests me. Probably the worst of the dark books I’ve read was “Jude the Obscure” (a book club pick). It was so depressing I felt like I needed to be medicated after I read it. (Ok, maybe it wasn’t THAT bad but… ugh.)
I recently finished reading “So Much For That,” which also covers some dark subject matter and the timing wasn’t all that great for me. One of the main characters is a woman with cancer and that hit a little too close to home right now. I picked the book because it deals with health care in the U.S. and I did find that aspect of it interesting. The book would make an excellent movie, a tear-jerker with a ray of hope.
As for what makes a book great for me, my standards are similar to the first commenter’s. If I want to read it again, it’s a 5-star book.