Ruby in the Rough

Ruby in the Rough was written by Steven Ruby and first published in 2013. It is a work of contemporary fiction presented as a collection of short stories that illustrate key moments in the protagonist’s life as he grew up in rural America. The novel is a stand-alone story that does not form part of any series.

Steven Ruby has not had the best start in life. His father passed away from a sudden heart attack and his mother works very hard to provide for him and his sister, Katie. However, Steven is not one to complain. He is a bright and adventurous boy, and likes nothing more than exploring his neighbourhood and tinkering with anything that he can get his hands on – often with disastrous results.

Throughout the school year, Steven does his best to avoid falling foul of the local bully and ensure that his experiments do not land him in hospital. However, it is the holidays that he really lives for. It is during the holidays that he is allowed to stay with his Uncle George and help out on the ranch. Although life on the farm is tough, Steven admires his uncle more than anything and sometimes dreams of becoming a farmer just like him.

However, as Steven grows up, it starts to become clear that not all of his childhood dreams will follow him to adulthood. Steven must discover that life sometimes has other things in store for people, as he witnesses sudden changes in the circumstances of the people he is is close to and how they cope with them. The novel focuses on Steven from the age of eight through to young adulthood as he learns important life lessons and discovers the kind of man that he wants to be.

Try as I might, I can find very little about the author of this book. I won it in a Goodreads Giveaway some time ago but can tell you next to nothing about the man who wrote it. I don’t know if it is genuinely a biography of writer’s early life, or if he is an author like Darren Shan who writes as though he is the protagonist. However, it certainly reads as though it is biographical, which makes what I have to say next quite difficult.

Ruby in the Rough is one of the hardest novels that I have ever had to review. This isn’t because of controversial themes or bad writing. It’s purely because I could not get into it at all. The reason why is quite hard for me to explain. Technically speaking, Ruby’s writing is perfectly adequate. Although it felt a little clinical in places and contained the odd spelling error, the prose flowed fine and was very easy to follow. The problem I had was entirely with its content.

When I review novels, I often try to think of who the novel will most appeal to. Even if I don’t personally enjoy a story, I can at least point it out to people who may be more forgiving than me. However, I can’t think of who I would recommend Ruby in the Rough to at all. Although it was listed on Goodreads as a young adult novel, I don’t really consider it such. The plot, as much as there is one, is told through a collection of thirty-five vignettes, connected by reoccurring characters. It follows the adventures of a perfectly ordinary boy as he grows up in rural Kentucky over the 1960s. My biggest issue with this concept is the choice of narrator.

If this book genuinely was aimed at young adults, you would expect the narrator to feel young. It would be presented as though the reader was there with a young Steven Ruby as he made trouble. Unfortunately, the book mainly felt as though it was talking at the reader. It was told as though the narrator was a middle-aged Steven, reminiscing about his childhood in the form of solid, expository text. This didn’t really ever make me feel as immersed in the story as I should have been. It was more as though I was politely listening to someone’s long-winded yarn. The way the story was told also made it feel really dated. I was shocked to find how many of young Steven’s adventures concluded with him learning a life lesson by being whipped by his mother.

I personally found that these vignettes were unable to hold my interest. I found myself likening reading the collection to watching a stranger’s home movie. While I’m sure that Ruby feels the anecdotes are funny or moving, I was unable to share his enthusiasm. Most of the stories focused on Ruby’s massive extended family, illustrating their many eccentricities. While one of Ruby’s early stories illustrated the importance of not judging people based on their appearance, he still gets way too hung up on the way that people look. Ruby is quick to enlighten readers as to how fat or skinny his aunts are and is far more critical towards his female neighbours and relatives than the male ones.

As I previously noted, the story does not really have a continuous plot, as the stories are designed to largely stand alone. There are only a few reoccurring threads that play throughout the story, such as the fact that Hunter the bully may be responsible for the death of Steven’s pet rooster. Unfortunately, the running threads don’t really amount to anything. The final story in the collection provides a kind of Stand By Me style rundown about what became of every character as an adult. I personally found this to be unsatisfactory. I prefer character development to occur on page, rather to learn that karma caught up with a characters twenty years later.

The most interesting aspect of the story was really what it left unsaid. Beneath the surface was the tale of a boy who tragically lost his father at a young age and grew up in a house filled with women. His main male role model was Uncle George, and it’s very clear that Steven loves him. He follows him endlessly and its clear that his interest in farming is born from his desire to be a man like his uncle. While this thread dominates the early stories, it’s unfortunately mentioned less and less as the novel progresses. This really was a shame, as I felt that it had the potential to provide Steven with a lot more character growth. The final chapter reveals that Steven’s eventual choice of career wasn’t really influenced by any of his previous experiences.

I think that’s about all I have to say about this one. Unfortunately, Ruby in the Rough isn’t really a novel that I’d recommend. It didn’t engage me at all as it was very slow moving and exposition heavy. Perhaps if you have a deep interest in rural America this story will speak to you more. If you don’t, I’d probably advise you to look elsewhere.

Ruby in the Rough can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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