Jane Hamilton

"The Book of Ruth"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark FEB 21, 1999)

In The Book of Ruth the narrator recounts events, "trying to see through into the past" so that she can tell how and why things have happened as they have. Thefirst few paragraphs sets us up for what will be told, then she tells it. It is written in first person and the  language is that of an uneducated, "slow" girl, frustrated by a mother who adores her smart brother. She tells us about her childhood growing up in their northern Illinois town. She tells us about her teachers in school, her Aunt Sid in DeKalb, how she falls in love with Ruby, a toothless dreamer. But most importantly we learn more and more about her mother, their good times together and their bad. And when the story is complete, we find the full strength of the opening paragraphs.  Remarkably, Hamilton has Ruth tell this story without divulging the pivotal event until the 20th chapter of this 22 chapter novel.

This is another book about abuse. Not too surprising since this is one of Oprah's selections. This time it isn't physical abuse; but mental abuse is just as limiting. This novel is very readable, with strong characters and natural dialogue. The end of this novel is shocking, tightly wrapping back to the beginning, an indication of the quality of the writing.

Amazon readers' rating: 312 reviews


Read an excerpt from The Book of Ruth at the publisher' site

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About the Author:

Jane HamiltonJane Hamilton lives, works and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin.  Her short stories have appeared in Harper's magazine.  For The Book of Ruth she received the 1989 PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel. Seven years after its publication, it waschosen for the Oprah Book Club, giving it a second life. In 1994 Hamilton published A MAP OF THE WORLD which became an international bestseller, and in 1998, THE SHORT HISTORY OF A PRINCE, which won the Heartland Prize for Fiction, and was shortlisted for Britain's Orange Prize.


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