Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Virtuous Woman - Kay Gibbons

Summary:  When Blinking Jack Stokes met Ruby Pitt Woodrow, she was twenty and he was forty.  She was the carefully raised daughter of Carolina gentry and he was a skinny tenant farmer who had never owned anything in his life.  She was newly widowed after a disastrous marriage to a brutal drifter.  He had never asked a woman to do more than help him hitch a mule.  They didn't fall in love so much as they simply found each other and held on for dear life.  (Summary from book - Image from )

My Review:  In A Virtuous Woman, I was fascinated by the quiet, steadfast love between the two main characters, Jack and Ruby.  Their love wasn’t a passionate affair, certainly not the kind you find in romance novels.  Jack was just a good man who’d never had much opportunity or inclination to marry, until he met Ruby.  He saw in her a kindred spirit – one in desperate need of protection, kindess, and love – and knew he could give that to her if only she would have him. 

Their story is told in short chapters, alternating between Jack and Ruby’s strong, singular voices as they look back on their past, the trials that brought them together, and the life they shared.  I enjoyed the character’s different perspectives and felt that, collectively, they created a brief, but well-rounded picture of their life together. 

One glance at the reviews on Good Reads will tell you that even though this book was an Oprah Book Club selection, it still has both fans and detractors.  Some, including myself, find the stark and simple nature of this book quietly compelling while others called it a snooze-fest (or something along those lines).   Others complained about the character’s vernacular, which leaned towards the uneducated southern dialect.  It took a little getting used to, but I felt that it added to the over all flavor of the book and the feel of the characters.  Here’s a quote (of Jack, writing about Ruby’s battle with cancer) that I loved that will give you a little taste of the author’s writing style:

“If you want to see a man afraid just put him in a room with a sick woman who was once strong.  See, I know now that this world is built up on strong women, built up and kept up by them too, them kneeling, stooping, pulling, bending, and rising up when they need to go and do what needs to get done.  And when a man sees a woman like that sick and hurt, especially the kind of man who knows a woman’s strength but can’t confess it, when he sees her sick or hurt it terrifies him, like he’s witnessing a chunk of the universe coming loose and he knows he doesn’t have what it takes to stick it back together.  And that man will feel guilty and foolish then too because henever made himself say what he always knew.” 

Another of my favorite quotes from the book was a little shorter:  “..half the job of finding peace is finding understanding.” It seemed to me that through years of marriage and shared hardship, Jack and Ruby mastered the art of seeing one another clearly and loving each other regardless. They understood one another. I think we all hope for that kind of love and I loved its reflection in this book.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:   I didn’t really count, but I’d estimate around 20-30 instances of profanity, mostly (but not entirely) bibical in nature.  Also, Jack and Ruby weren’t particularly fond of organized religion and didn’t like it being forced upon them, but that didn’t bother me one bit. 

Sum it up:  A story full of heartbreak, contentment, and a quietly compelling love.

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