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The Book of Ruth

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  45,121 ratings  ·  941 reviews
Winner of the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Awardfor best first novel, this exquisite bookconfronts real-life issues of alienation and violencefrom which the author creates a stunning testamentto the human capacity for mercy, compassion andlove. ...more
Paperback, 328 pages
Published December 1st 1989 by Anchor (first published January 1st 1988)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Deborah Katz
Here's what I'm learning about myself:

I despise po' country lit written by women.

Is that terrible? Does that make me a bad feminist?

In Country? Hated it. All these poor white trash stories about kids growin' up harder n' poorer than those other kids over there, wearing ugly clothes, and having lots of scrap metal in the yard...

...yeah I just can't deal.

Because these stories never GO anywhere. It just sounds like a lot of whining through the front, middle, and back of life.

As if whining was coura
people complain about ruth being "white trash," but i think they are missing the whole point - putting yourself in a world not your own. i grew to adore ruth as i experienced her small-town world. i found her ability to daydream and fantasize intelligent and mesmerizing. people also complain about the ending - let me just say that while it is harsh, it is an eye opening juxtaposition between hum-drum and madness.
This book is quite sad but has an amazing voice. The protagonist, Ruth, was never encouraged to do much with her life and has always been told she was not quite that bright. However, she has some incredible insights into human nature and her story is very barebones. Hamilton writes Ruth in such a way that her thoughts about the world are those that many of us have but never reveal because of social custom. Ruth's ideas are often right on and her "alleged" stupidity allows her to state things in ...more
Christina Ramos
I am really surprised by all of the negative reviews of this book. I think it is so strange that the characters are discounted as "white trash", their story thus, uninteresting or too dreary. While the story is by no means a happy one it is highly engrossing and worth telling. Hamilton's narrator Ruth is by turns despairing and joyful of life and Hamilton's writing manages to be lyrical and poetic, blunt and simple at the same time. I personally like to connect with other people, to imagine what ...more
Aug 29, 2007 Marsha rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
This is the story of a white trash girl named Ruth, her white trash mother and her white trash boyfriend/husband with bad teeth. It was very difficult to make it through this book because I didn't like any of the characters--they were stagnant and annoying throughout. Ruth had great potential but never realized any of it. A bad story was made even worse when about 4/5 of the way through, there was suddenly a horrific and bloody scene that took about 4 pages of graphic descriptions. I was caught ...more
This is one of my all-time favorite books. It's a book that changes one's perspective on people and walking a mile in other's shoes before judging. Did your school have one or two or maybe more kids that were just "off" -- easy targets for bullies and even kids who usually seemed nice? In this book the main character's name isn't even mentioned until the end because she's someone who is constantly minimized ... or even worse, unnoticed.
Jan 15, 2008 Michelle rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any of my book club friends, but it's not for those seeking something light
This is Jane Hamilton's first novel and it is a whopper. It's the story of a small-town girl and her struggles with growing up with a mother who's lost any compassion or sweetness and a brother she can't relate to. This girl, Ruth, despite an intelligence that she's unaware of and so is everyone else, ends up marrying a dangerous, drug-riddled fellow. Throughout the story, which lags at times in Ruth's simple cadence, there are bits of foreshadowing of some life-changing, terrible day. So you ke ...more
Laurel Wicke
I should have known better. I really should have. First, it was an Oprah book club pick, and second, it won some Hemingway writing award. I always find Oprah's picks terribly dark and I despise Hemingway. Sorry to all the Hemingway fans out there. BUT, on the back cover a review said the book was very "Dickensonian" and another said it had quirky off-beat characters in the vein of Anne Tyler--two authors that I happen to love, so I gave it whirl.

Ugh, ugh, ugh. I loathe ignorance. And the charac
Lynne King
I admit that I purchased this book on a whim as I liked the title. The reviews also looked good and I could see that it was the winner of the Pen/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award. I also thought that perhaps it was a modern day version of Ruth from the bible, which, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful Books there. However, that soon proved not to be the case.

Initially I thought the book was rather good. It had a rather humorous, odd and yet self-effacing way about it. However, after a w
Andrew Breslin
I gave this book four stars, but I can't say I actually enjoyed it. I turned the pages out of a compulsive voyeurism, the way one might stick one's ear against the wall to eavesdrop on the dysfunctional family next door. It's not that you enjoy hearing the domestic violence break out--the screams, the profanity, the smashing of hurled glassware. You just can't bring yourself to turn away, let alone turn up your own radio to drown it out. Shhh. Quiet! They're at it again!

I agree with some of the
Jul 22, 2008 deLille rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who want to be depressed
Recommended to deLille by: My mom
I finally finished this book which has been on my "could-not-finish" shelf for ages. What can I say... it is a lyrical book with beautiful prose, but the subject matter is extremely depressing and it never lifts itself up. It's like Hamilton has never heard the term "comic relief". I loved Jane Hamilton's "A Map of the World" and "A Short History of a Prince", but this book made me weary of Hamilton's metaphor-a-minute writing and her continuous dwelling on everything ugly about people. Everyone ...more
BIPL Reads
Book of Ruth is Jane Hamilton's first novel. Just reading the first lines again grants me the profound pleasure of stumbling on beauty and hard-earned wisdom (about losing one's naivete, or maybe innocence) in the lingua franca of rural Wisconsin.

"What it begins with, I know finally, is the kernel of meanness in people's hearts. I don't know exactly how or why it gets inside us; that's one of the mysteries I haven't solved yet. I always tried to close my eyes and believe that angels, invisible
Lauren Hahn
This book was a huge dissapointment. The reader is forced to listen to the story of a woman who leads an unhappy and meaningless life. Throughout the eventless book you keep waiting for something to occur to make reason of the narrator's purpose in life, but instead find out that she is simply a pathetic and unhappy person. In the last few pages a huge twist occurs, but it is simply too late to indulge the reader, and is to much to take into too short of an amount of time. The only thing stoppin ...more
We were assigned this book as part of a writing course, with the intention that the instructor would have us read a few chapters per week, for us to discuss the author's use of craft. Our first discussion opened with the group unanimously loathing the book so much that it was never brought up again. I read it to the end to see if things got better - they did not, a tedious downer to the final sentence.
Didn't really care for this book, but didn't hate it either. Not sure that I would recommend it. One of the reviewers of this book called it "a sly and wistful ... human comedy" and another said the "small-town characters are ... appealingly offbeat and brushed with grace" but I wonder if those reviewers read the same book that I did. I found the novel dispiriting, depressing, and rather boring. Perhaps if this was part of a series, and we could also hear others' stories (May's and Matt's and Ru ...more
Anne Kaufhold
It was well-written and psychologically astute. Painfully insightful about the characters and human nature. However, I usually gloss over 'challenging' books in favor of fluff. My life and work are challenging enough. By the end of the day, I'm ready to sit down with a book and let my mind roam while talking animals adventure with irreverent wizards.

The only time I end up tackling thoughtful modern literature is when I'm sick in bed; too sick to make it to the public library, with the kind of s
Aug 09, 2007 Shannon rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone!!!
I loved this book! It is written in a very unsophisticated tone, as compared to "A Map of the World." It is a wonderful book about a girl who makes her way in the world, completely unsupported by her family, with the exception of an aunt who lives out of town. The small town in which the main character lives is very nostalgic to many of us who were raised in similar places. The main character grows to become what she hates the most, her mother. The ending is as dramatic as they come, with an epi ...more
This book was a journey through the life of Ruth Grey. There is a beginning, middle and an end of the book, but not her life. Almost, but not quite.

The journey allows us to see Ruth's family and her situation through her words. Who the people were, what happened to them, what happened to her - all are detailed and told in her own words. How she felt and what she thought comes through clearly and is beautifully written, even when she was not quite truthful to others. She idolized her Aunt Sid and
Apr 15, 2013 Red rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
Not my cup of tea. This book is about the very hard life of a girl as she grows into a woman, and about how her immediate family and most of the world hated her, and mistreated her. "Retarded" is one of the nicer things her mother calls her. There are a very few people who treat her well: her Aunt, who she sees but once a year, a blind neighbor, a teacher. The writing is very well done, Ruth has an interesting voice, that grows as she does. In fact her literary voice is possibly the only "pretty ...more
emi Bevacqua
I absolutely loved the story that main character Ruth tells about her pathetic family in rural Illinois, I can't believe this was the author Jane Hamilton's first novel, it's brilliant and made me laugh and gasp in horror too. Ruth's mother May had a hard life - her first husband and love of her life was killed at war, her brilliant son Matt never returned her love, her second husband abandoned her, she's alienated her entire family, and as far as she's concerned her daughter Ruth can't do anyth ...more
Shana Duval
I only read this book for a Book Club....and I ended up not even going to the meeting cause I couldn't finish the book. It was just sooooo painstaking to read about such respressed people and their depressing lives. I almost convinced myself to quit, but since I always finish a book I start I mustered the energy to find out what happens to Ruth. Which I found to be absolutely exasperating because nothing worth reading ever happens to her!

Now, put all of that above aside for a moment....I will g
A large helping of literary protein. Unflinching in the face of everyday ugliness and mediocrity.

The protagonist has a rare voice. Her mental world is deep, so deep as to seem stark and barren at times. She is what someone might call a blind prophet. Amazing, beautiful insight, yet a little daft at the same time. She sees things other people can't, but her line of sight is narrow.

Some passages that slayed me:

"Sometimes, I feel that I'm only just ready to start my life. I know what I need to,
I basically loved this book. It was great. The narrator was unique, and the way the book is written, you can't help reading the book in her voice (she's a country girl from Illinois). It was kind of heartbreaking because Ruth isn't the brightest bulb in the tanning bed, but she's describing things that you just KNOW are going to go south and yet she doesn't see the warning signs and her optimism throughout the book just sort of kills you. I can't believe my mom had this book lying around for so ...more
My mother-in-law read this on Oprah's suggestion, then she asked me to read it so we could discuss it. We both hated it. There is no way the reader can accept the self-consciously literary narrator as Ruth, who tells us repeatedly how stupid and illiterate she is. Likewise I found Hamilton's attempts to empathize with her characters both shallow and condescending. The only reason I finished this book was to discover what horrible thing had happened, as was referred to on the first page...the ans ...more
Jackie (Literary Hoarders)
May 12, 2010 Jackie (Literary Hoarders) rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jackie (Literary Hoarders) by: Mom
Shelves: read-in-2010
i guess this was one of the first Oprah Book Club books. it was ok– very sad.

here is a summary from Google:

The country folk in Hamilton’s first novel lead plain, hard, impoverished lives–on a good day. When things get bad, there’s brutality, bestiality, and no small amount of bloodshed. These are the same raw ingredients used by Flannery O’Connor and Carolyn Chute, but Hamilton does not share their sharp, tragicomic vision. Her rural Illinois characters are blunted by the meanness of their lives
Lynn Wilson
This book has had wonderful reviews and is on Oprah's list but I struggled through it the same way I struggled through Hamilton's Map of the World. The entire time I was reading this book I was filled with dread (which means the author is an effective writer) but I was left feeling washed up by the end.

The book makes an excellent case for the notion that poverty and violence create a self-perpetuating culture. But she gives no hope of escape. I believe that people can move beyond these circumst
Rebekah Agee
This was the first book I read of 2012. I remember liking it ok, but it wasn't my favorite book. I found the quality of writing to be above average. I do not remember why, but I must have liked the way the author wrote. I did have a problem with the pace though. It was a slow moving book. If I really enjoy a book, I can read it in a day or two. This book took me 4 days and I wasn't working those 4 days. And I think it took me so long b/c it was hard to get into due to it being so slow paced. I k ...more
Jess Michaelangelo
I must admit, after spotting many negative reviews of this on Goodreads, I was a little wary to read this. This book has been sitting on my shelf for a few years, and I thought I'd give it a try.

I ended up really liking this book. It's not the easiest book to read, in regards to its subject matter, but I think it's an important one, all the same.

Basically, this is the story of Ruth and her life. I liked Ruth. She may have been simple-minded, but sometimes, she'd say something that really just
After all last month in the company of, how can I put this delicately, white trash (with the insupportable Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom) I got my hands on this: another American Family tragedy. As much as I loathe Norman Rockwell portraits, inversely I adore AmFamTs. Andre Dubus III, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth…they are always welcomed in my bookshelf. This, a “first novel” seems like a breeze to read since its protagonist is, according to those that surround her, “slow.” Theme and form are the sa ...more
Oprah's Book Club! Hemingway award winner! Should be fantastic, right?

Well, it is very well written. Certainly it is a very in depth story of the life of a woman growing up poor in the rural midwest in the 60s and 70s. The characters are very well fleshed out for better and (mostly) worst and the main character does a fine job herself at connecting the dots from one generation to another and seeing how their lives were all intertwined. For that quality of the writing and character development I
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500 Great Books B...: The Book of Ruth - Jane Hamilton 1 5 Jul 18, 2014 03:24PM  
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Jane Hamilton lives, works, and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's magazine. Her first novel, The Book of Ruth, won the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel and was a selection of the Oprah Book Club. Her second novel, A Map of the World, was an international bestseller.
More about Jane Hamilton...
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“I feel like I don't have all the ingredients a person is supposed to have.” 16 likes
“We're only passers-by, and all you can do is love what you have in your life. A person has to fight the meanness that sometimes comes with you when you're born, sometimes grows if you aren't in lucky surroundings. It's our challenge to fend it off, leave it behind us choking and gasping for breath in the mud. It's our task to seek out something with truth for us, no matter if there is a hundred-mile obstacle course in the way, or a ramshackle old farmhouse that binds and binds.” 9 likes
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