Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ruby: Here's some information. Do with it what you will.

I'm going to tell you, very calmly, why I couldn't love this book and in fact sort of disliked it, but first here's Emily's mini-review because she loved it and I love her.

First of all, the language is rich and dense (similes and metaphors and descriptors, galore...sometimes too many?), and the characters are complex. And the message—which centers on a woman breaking the cycle of abuse and taking back control of her soul (literally)—is deep and poignant and relevant. I get why people are comparing Cynthia Bond to Toni Morrison. I do.

But I hated my life while I was reading this book.

I am far from being the sort of person who demands that books and movies make me feel warm and safe. No Country for Old Men is one of my favorites of recent memory. I'll watch a Lars von Trier movie to unwind after a long day at work. I enjoy existential dread!

But this seemed gratuitous. It felt like Bond was forcing me to wallow in the most vile pits of mortal experience, and every time I thought maybe it was time to get out and towel off, she was like, "NOPE. You don't have enough muck in your soul crevices."

Soul muck is my Kryptonite.

All we really know at the beginning is that Ruby is in her 40s and is the "local crazy" in a small Texas town. Ephram is a man who knew Ruby and loved her from afar when they were children. She had moved to New York as a young woman but came back I think 15 years prior to when the book picks up. And in that time, something about being back in that town made her lose her mind 100% all the way.
They had all watched, steadily, as she slipped into madness. Concern, mingled with a secret satisfaction, melted into the creases of their bodies like Vaseline.
As the story unfolds in the present day, we learn through current events and flashbacks what set Ruby on the path to madness, how her tortured history inexplicably relates to Ephram's seemingly uneventful one, and the heroic effort that will be required to bring her out of the pit. And, oh right, there are supernatural doings throughout.

Damn. Even now, it sounds so good. Because it is. It would be. It should be. So why isn't it?

As near as I can figure, the book's biggest problem is that it's grossly out of balance. You have to slog through 99 miles of evil before you reach 1 mile of world-weary sadness shot through with glimmers of hope for future redemption. One chapter in particular, toward the middle of the book, was so emotionally oppressive that I was nauseated.

But the more I think about it, the more I think maybe that imbalance was intentional.

Bond works with homeless and at-risk youth in Los Angeles, so this is probably a story she's seen play out in real lives. She may have taken in all the hurt and trauma of all the kids she's ever counseled and poured it into Ruby. This could be her way of letting victims of abuse know that she sees them, that they're not alone—that if all they find when they look back is darkness, they should take one step forward. And then one step more.

OK, this is what I'll say about Ruby: I will never claim that anyone should read this book. People (especially women) who have suffered abuse are more likely to be triggered by the events of Ruby's life than encouraged by them. People who haven't suffered abuse might feel as though they have by the end of the story. It's your choice.

I support you if this is your decision.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

I smell faintly and forever of sour milk

Two weeks ago today, the dogs and I were taking our regular 3 p.m. stroll when we were accosted by a tiny street thug.

At claw point

I heard plaintive mewling along the fence that rings the industrial complex where I rent my office; so I peered under and he was just there, sprawled face-down in a gap between the fence and a row of shipping containers. I heard a startled rustling farther down the sidewalk, and I thought certainly that was his mother. This was my justification for doing what I now believe to have been a shameful thing, which was go back to my life where I was a person with two dogs and no kitten.

At the same time the next day, again with the strolling and again with the mewling, but a little more assertive this time. I crouched in the weeds and looked under the fence, and he was in the exact same spot and visibly upset about it. I squeezed behind the shipping containers and scooped him up, and everything has been basically awful since then.

Look at this asshole.

He was only a week old when I found him, eyes firmly shut and umbilical cord attached. Now he's the ripe old age of 3 weeks, but he still has to be on a heating pad because he can't regulate his body temperature, and he needs his butt rubbed with a moist towelette to help him pee and poo.

And he has to be bottle-fed kitten milk replacement every 2 to 4 hours, which he gets HELLA belligerent about because he keeps forgetting how the milk travels from the bottle to his mouth. He spends at least 10 minutes every time screaming and clawing at my hand and the bottle and his face before a drop hits his tongue and he furiously suckles himself into a transcendent milk stupor. Until the next time he's hungry (which is every moment he's awake even if I just fed him but he fell asleep for a minute and then a dog barked and woke him up and he's preeeetty sure he should eat again as long as we're all here).

You are CLEARLY full, sir.


But his eyes are open now, and they seem to be getting bigger and brighter every day. And he purrs vigorously when you cradle him against your heart. And he climbs up your shirt so he can put his front paws on your face and gently gum your lip. And he leans toward Gizmo so she can lick the milk off his face. And he wobbles along the floor with his tail straight up in the air while Paco hesitantly follows behind, trying to figure out what manner of beast this is and whether it has designs on his evening biscuit.

So yeah . . . when can we find a home for this jerk and reclaim our lives?

UPDATED TO ADD: The very next day after I posted this, the rescue said they had a lactating female and there was room for this little outlaw to sidle up to the bar for a libation. So, alas, he is gone from my life, on to bigger and better things. But whenever the day's chaos abates, when calm settles over the house, in that still, small moment, I can hear . . . Meow? DAMMIT WOMAN I SAID MEOW.