A VIRTUOUS WOMAN by Kaye Gibbons


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A straight and true, if somewhat unusual, love is at the heart of this sweet and folksy novella by the much celebrated author of Ellen Foster. Blinking Jack Ernest Stokes ("stokes the fire, stokes the stove, stokes the fiery furnace of hell!") shares with his younger wife, Ruby Pitt Woodrow Stokes, "a quiet kind of love," born of Jack's essential goodness and Ruby's gratitude. When she first met Jack, her second husband, she was stuck in a horrible marriage to a drinking and cheating migrant worker, who had wooed her with lies and given her a mean and lowdown life. Before running off with nasty John Woodrow at 18, Ruby was the sheltered daughter of a modestly prosperous farmer, and planned on attending college. In one of her charming monologues (which alternate with Jack's), Ruby blames her movie-fed imagination for the mistake from which she cannot turn back. And Woodrow's taunts about Ruby's "uppity" background inspires her only vice, the smoking that eventually leads to lung cancer at 45, much to the dismay of gentle Jack, himself 65 at the time. While Ruby's chapters are told in anticipation of her impending death, Jack's look back from the months after the fact, recalling Woodrow's timely murder in a pool-hall fight, Jack and Ruby's odd courtship, and their 25 years of a loving marriage. A tall and skinny tenant farmer, Jack works for his buddy Burr Stanley, a former tenant who married the spoiled, slovenly, knocked-up daughter of the landlord. As much a testament to the unlikely love of Jack and Ruby, this quirky little book also captures in its final chapter--the only one in the third person--the depths of Jack's loneliness and despair after Ruby's gone. Other than his devoted friendship, and a share in his daughter's love (Jack and Ruby couldn't have their own kids), Burr gives Jack the only thing left--a piece of land to call his own. Gibbons flirts with kitsch--one memory recalls a six-year-old girl in a bedful of puppies--but her good country sense argues for a grace and virtue beyond mere sentimentality, and unaffected by religiosity. There's much charm--and a lot of wisdom--in her rural romance.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1989
ISBN: 945575-09-2
Publisher: Algonquin
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