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RUBY by Ann Hood

RUBY

By Ann Hood

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-19553-2
Publisher: Picador

A widow and a teenager form a friendship that helps both move ahead with their lives. Livia meets David when he walks into her East Village hat shop as she’s dancing alone to the strains of “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Four months later, the newlyweds marry at City Hall, accompanied by Olivia’s cat Arthur dressed in a custom-made top hat. They settle into cozy domesticity, buying a beach house in Rhode Island, painting each other’s toenails, reveling in their shared love for Stickley chairs, Leonard Cohen songs, and Disneyland (“but not Disney World”). The extreme preciosity of this version of marital bliss makes it hard to share Olivia’s devastation when, a scant year later, David is hit by a car while jogging—especially since Hood’s depiction of mourning is as schematic as her characterizations. The story picks up, however, when Olivia discovers 15-year-old Ruby sitting in the kitchen of the beach house. Pregnant and unmarried, Ruby has been thrown out by her working-class mother; her college-student boyfriend seems unlikely to provide much support, either. Olivia decides that adopting Ruby’s baby will give her a reason to go on living, and Ruby agrees to the plan, though it’s clear that this believably flaky teenager can’t be relied on to stick to any decision. Hood makes nice use of physical detail to show Olivia slowly regaining her appetite for life—due less to impending motherhood than to her growing fondness for Ruby, who also gains a new sense of the possibilities open to her from observing Olivia’s more privileged existence. The story’s unexpectedly touching denouement commendably resists the temptation to provide easy, feel-good resolutions. Not the most profound exploration of grief and loss, but once past the cutesy set-up, veteran Hood (Places to Stay the Night, 1993, etc.) provides a solid tale and several genuinely affecting moments.