Ruby Montgomery, who (with some reason) thinks of herself as the devil incarnate, takes away her friend Othella's stillborn baby daughter, intending to bury the dead child--only to discover that the babe is now breathing! So Ruby decides to keep the little girl (she always wanted a daughter but only had sons), to raise Othella's baby as her own: knowing that she must avoid all further contact with Othella, Ruby moves to the Goons district of the Florida Everglades, just outside Miami--where the girl, named Maureen, is installed in the ""sanctified"" upper room of Ruby's small house, growing up away from all problems or interference. And, while opening countless cans of beer, Ruby fiercely protects Maureen--casually ""chastizing"" their enemies (usually male) by tearing their arms clean off or even killing them. . . and dreading the inevitable showdown/encounter with the cruelly betrayed Othella. There are some funny moments along the way: a local girl, Catty, gets married solely because she knows of no other way to get three Ray Charles albums as gifts at one time; the boys--black and white--all pant over sexy Maureen, but when she's pregnant by a man of an unusual hue, she can't find a taker of like complexion to help her mask her indiscretion. The backgrounds--a picture of Southern black poverty in the Sixties--are strongly etched, with mythic shadings somewhat reminiscent of Toni Morrison. But Mama Ruby--obese, utterly commanding, like a force of nature in her matter-of-fact violence and witchcraft--is both the center and the basic substance of Monroe's first novel. And, despite some tedious repetition in the vignettes and dialogues that fill out the folktale-like plot here, this is a modestly effective debut--with originality and darkly offbeat charm in Mama Ruby's quasi-demonic doings.