Chapter 1

Ruby Bell was a constant reminder of what could befall a woman whose shoe heels were too high.

Oprah's note:
An intriguing opening line that compelled me to the next sentence and the next. Made me immediately want to know more about this Ruby.

She wore gray like rain clouds and wandered the red roads in bared feet.

Oprah's note:
I grew up on red roads in Mississippi and often wandered them in bare feet as a little girl. Felt familiar.

They had all watched, steadily, as she slipped into madness. Concern, mingled with a secret satisfaction, melted into the creases of their bodies like Vaseline.

Oprah's note:
Often nosy neighbors are both concerned and secretly satisfied by others' misfortune. The reference to Vaseline also a familiar one for southern black girls.

Ruby looked down and saw the puddle beneath her. Surprise flowered on her face, then fell away leaving a spreading red shame. Her hands leapt to her eyes, but when she brought them down the world was still there, so she dropped the sack in the pool of urine and ran. But it wasn’t running. It was flying, long and graceful, into the piney woods like a deer after the crack of a buckshot.

Oprah's note:
Such a vivid description, I could see her flying.

The magical thing about Ephram Jennings was that if you looked real hard, you could see a circle of violet rimming the brown of his irises. Soft like the petals of spreading periwinkle. The problem was that no one, not even his sister, took the time to really look at Ephram Jennings.

Oprah's note:
Feel like I know Ephram and now I'm committed to know more. Compassionate connection established.

For Ephram did not see what anyone else passing down the road would see: a skinny dust brown woman with knotted hair lying back flat in a mud puddle. No. Ephram Jennings saw that Ruby had become the still water. He saw her liquid deep skin, her hair splayed like onyx river vines.

Oprah's note:
By the time I reached here, I was fully hooked and hungry to explore the depths of these characters.

Chapter 2

The piney woods were full of sound. Trees cracking and falling to their death; the knell of axes echoing into green; the mewl of baby hawks waiting for Mama’s catch. Bull frogs and barn owls. The call of crows and purring of doves. The screams of a Black man. The slowing of a heart.

Oprah's note:
Having grown up in Mississippi, I know the history of lynching. Hard for me even now to pass a wooded area in the South and not think about the screams of black men hanged there.

Ma tante petted Ruby's head. "I try to make it harder fo' them to steal your soul's purse. They's things that happen out in them woods under the blood moon. Nights when a child like you need to stay behind locked doors. But it's too late for that, ain't it?"

Ruby nodded yes.

"They already dragged you out to they pit fire, ain't they?"

Ruby nodded again.

"Already cracked open your spirit like a walnut and try to stuff they rot in there. Dat's why them spirits pester you so. They like openings and you a sieve. You got to know they two kinds of spirits—haints is like leeches, hang on, but can't swallow you whole. Dyboù something different. Ain't content with nothing but snuffing out all you is—smell like a burned out candle when it come.

I try to suck the poison of the pit fire out. I try."

Oprah's note:
Wasn't sure what was going on here. I had to re-read the passage several times, gradually recognizing that the poison of the pit fire was foreshadowing the worse to come.

Ain't nobody ever gone answer you cries. You can fill a well with tears, and all you gonna get is drowned. You sit there long enough and the crazy man find you. You weep too long, your heart ache so, the flesh slip off your bones and your soul got to find a new home. You wait on answers 'til the scaredy-cat curl up in your belly and use your liver for a pin cushion. And that's just how you die.

Oprah's note:
Such a beautiful passage of poetic sorrow. I read it out loud to better hear its lyricism.

Chapter 4

Some folk say after time she come to love him. Others say she jes' give in to shame. Me, I don’t know much, 'cept that he chased her all the way to lonely. And once you make it there, ain't too many choices left.

Oprah's note:
Chased all the way to lonely. What a poignant thought. She was left bereft by her utter lack of choices.

Seem like a White man can do anythang on earth to a Black woman—rape her, beat her, shame her. But he show her a ounce of respect and all hell break a loose.

Oprah's note:
A way of life and a fact. White men had all the power. A woman's only value was service and sex.

Charlotte had her baby girl Ruby in June that next year. They say she willed that baby brown. Eatin' coffee grounds, chocolate cake, even brown eggs from black hen. Wouldn't eat nothing white while she was with child.

Oprah's note:
I grew up around women with these superstitions.

Hell, ain't nothing strange when Colored go crazy. Strange is when we don't.

Oprah's note:
I marvel that black people were able to survive under such oppressive circumstances without going crazy. There was no therapy, no medication, and they had only one another to understand the indignities and pain of dreams always deferred.

Chapter 5

She discovered that she could hammer her pride so wafer thin that she could accept alms like a beggar.

Oprah's note:
Repressed pride in order to survive. People do what they have to do to make it.

The Dyboù had come the next night, shifting the pillars of her grandfather's home, entering her pores, her follicles, until it moved like oil under her skin.

Oprah's note:
I wasn't quite sure at this point what a Dyboù was.

Chapter 6

Leaning against bottles of cayenne and cinnamon, Ephram remembered the day Ruby had arrived back in Liberty. Eleven years ago, in August of 1963, hundreds of thousands of Negroes had marched in Washington, D.C., exactly two days before Ruby showed up at P & K. Ruby had bucked the tide and made her way behind enemy lines.

Oprah's note:
She had to know how hard coming back home would be, but she did it anyway.

Chapter 7

Then as evening fell into night, Ruby knew nothing was coming. A rocking sadness filled her. The air was dead and the wind had stopped. Of all that happened in her grandfather's small house over the years, the lonely had been the worst of it. Words unspoken for so long. Only the trees to listen.

Oprah's note:
Loneliness is Ruby’s theme song.

Ruby looked up at the moon high in the sky. The road was still empty and the pains were beginning, the labor that robbed her senses and ripped through her. A little girl, swimming in her body, waiting, gently, tiny hands open. With each birth, she lived the murder of that child. The snap of a neck.

Oprah's note:
Foreshadowing what's ahead. What does it all mean? I wasn't sure whether she was really pregnant or if this was a metaphor.

Chapter 8

The Dyboù contemplated Ephram for hours, watching drool steal down his chin. It scorned the fat back of his earlobes. Then it started looking for chinks in his spirit, little holes to jimmy and crack, until they were just wide enough to lean in and sip. The biggest tear was near the heart, like a run in a woman's stocking.

Oprah's note:
This is such a beautifully haunting paragraph that I read it out loud once, then again.

The night shifted her horizon and contemplated the kindling of dawn. Ruby and Ephram sat in silence and ate the most amazing white lay angel cake, made theirs with bits of dirt and grass, while the piney woods watched from the shadows.

Oprah's note:
So glad after all it took for him to get there that they were able to sit together and eat the cake. So symbolic.

Chapter 9

Celia had been fourteen when her mother had shamed her entire family by walking up to the Easter Day picnic naked. Ephram was only eight, but the stain still spread over each and every one of them.

Oprah's note:
To be fourteen and eight, and faced with these life-defining moments... Stains spread over the years become irremovable.

It was only on rare spring nights, when the wind carried a pinch of jasmine into her window just before she fell asleep, that Celia would press her lips against her cupped palm ... and wonder what it must be like to actually kiss.

Oprah's note:
So sad, so poignant, and once again evoking that deep sense of loneliness.

It was 1963 and a world full of Negroes were making their way to Washington, D.C., to stir some change into the batter of the world.

Oprah's note:
I liked that the author connected us to the relevancy of the time. I was nine in 1963 and remember that no matter who or where you were, that March signified a Change was coming.

Chapter 10

Celia backed away into the front yard. She conjured with gospel—the one one thing that never failed to bring Ephram in line. "...though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow!"

Oprah's note:
A real insight into Celia's piety and self-righteousness. She used both to manipulate Ephram and her small world.

Chapter 11

The man's flag was still waving, but it was filthy as hell. Ruby sat on the bed and ate the third tea cake Ephram had given her that morning. He'd also brought her head cheese, which she had promptly ignored.

Oprah's note:
I remember eating head cheese as a girl in Mississippi. We called it hog head cheese. I wonder how many readers will know what that is. By the way it comes from pigs, not cows.

Word travels fast along the Sabine when it comes to unmarried women who offer horizontal refreshments.

Oprah's note:
She found a way to elevate the meaning of "whore."

Ephram began humming as he cleaned. Ruby gasped at his knowing. Perhaps a preacher's son knew something about haints. Maybe it was the lavender rings around his pupils or a lucky coincidence.

Oprah's note:
For the first time someone/Ruby "sees" him." No one, not even his sister, Celia, ever took the time to really look at Ephram.

Ruby blinked. In that instant she saw what he saw. Her ribcage loose with skin. The spirit of meanness poking out of her like nails. The corrugated filth of her hair. But more. The broken femur of her soul, reset without proper splint. She could accept anything on earth from a man except his pity.

"Faggot," she spat out, and ran from the house.

Oprah's note:
Even as broken and damaged as she is, she still has the need to be in control. Pity is the great leveler, stirring shame.

Chapter 12

It hadn’t been difficult for Ruby Bell to find the ripe center of the city. Having never fully entered the house of her body, she had no difficulty finding boarders.

Oprah's note:
Wow, what a profound metaphor. The author's insight into not just these characters but also the character of the human spirit is so remarkable.

The things he did to her hurt worse than anything she knew, than any way she imagined she could be hurt. But the things he called her hurt worse, words she didn’t know the meaning of but felt slugging through her, moving into her like poison.

Oprah's note:
Yes, we know she's been thoroughly poisoned.

Chapter 13

Ruby blinked and in an instant the past eleven years washed down her cheeks.

Oprah's note:
This woman can write. Time compressed and felt in the blink of an eye.

Ephram took her hand, "But I'll tell you what. I’m most interested in the woman you have yet to be."

Oprah's note:
He "sees" the Ruby that no one else can.

Ephram had always thought of a woman's hair as living testimony to her life, her memories. ... He'd silently watched women and the complexity of their hair all of his life.

Oprah's note:
We glean from this sentence how wise and astute he is. "Living testimony"—such an insightful observation.

Chapter 14

The Dyboù looked through the window, though the torn curtains, and saw to his surprise that the girl was not alone. The man was asleep, his body draped like a rag against the side of the bed, knees on the floor, his acorn head resting on the pillow. The girl was spread like a starfish on the mattress, hair like frothing black water all around them.

Oprah's note:
The eloquence of words conjuring images from the page! "Frothing black water..." Wow, I wish Maya Angelou were alive. She's the first person I'd want to share these words with. She would love this writer and be so impressed and proud.

The Dyboù pushed open the door and walked into the house. He stood in the doorway. He stepped on her bedroom floor and grinned. This boy, this mule, was meant to protect the whore? Like two pill bugs facing a praying mantis, there was no chance they would survive.

Oprah's note:
At this point I put the book down. Haunted by the Dyboù. Fearing they wouldn't survive made me so anxious. I didn't turn the next page until morning, until it was light out again.

Chapter 15

A smattering of pine nuts rained down to his left. Ephram turned and saw the Bell graveyard, over the rise. And just that quick he knew that if he kept walking that’s where his feet were carrying him. Into that grave of a house, that death of a life.

Oprah's note:
Contrasting feelings for me here. On the one hand feeling empathy for Celia in her loneliness and sudden abandonment, but on the other hand wanting freedom for Ephram. I'm rooting for Ephram!

Chapter 16

By 9:00 A.M. Ephram Jennings's sin had already been stirred, baked and left to cool, its scent filling the air of Liberty.

Oprah's note:
Wow. What a beautiful way to express how the town was consumed by his downfall.

As the two men reached the porch, Ephram turned and looked at Ruby. The pain rose to his chest, making his breath shallow. She seemed as small as a child, standing in bare feet.

Oprah's note:
Her smallness and frailty make him want to protect her all the more. You can feel his instinct as a man, needing to defend her.

Ephram stood his ground, getting soaked through to the bone, heaving and strong, all tingling washed away, a steady calm surging through his body.

Oprah's note:
That's where the power lies, in the steady calm.

Chapter 17

Otha Jennings had been born in Baltimore, in May of 1900, to an educated father and seamstress mother. She came from a long history of freedom.

Oprah's note:
Such important information that sets Otha apart from every other character we've met thus far. She could have married "up." Instead, she chose the Rev.

It would be years before he hit her.

Oprah's note:
One sentence...Speaks volumes

Otha watched her husband's eyes go black as he talked about Eve. He told the old story of how she alone baked evil in the bread of the world.

Oprah's note:
She realizes that his hatred is of all women, not just her, and that hatred is pure and "righteous"—in his mind it is justified.

"But this one..." Her husband gently took hold of Ruby. He held her face and gave her a smile. "This one belong to me. Ain't nobody else touch her. She a prize heifer, worth a-plenty. We send her out where she collect the White man's power and bring it back to me so's I can lead y’all."

Oprah's note:
I'm hiding with Otha in the woods, just as horrified by her discovery as she is.

Chapter 18

Ruby was once again the tree. She had slept morning into afternoon and had awakened to soft caws singing through the rain.

Oprah's note:
Ruby as tree. Magical realism. The imagery and sound of rain and caws.

In one gliding rush, Ruby felt the Dyboù falling through her, melding, joining, reaching for the graves of her children. Ruby pushed with all of her might and Chauncy fell back.

Oprah's note:
Confirmation once again that Chauncy and the Dyboù are one.

Ephram looked down and saw shame covering her like a bushel. He lifted up her face.

Oprah's note:
He recognized her shame, because he too has lived covered in it.

Chapter 19

Celia sat upon the plastic slipcovers on her mint velour sofa. It was not only the loss of him, but who had gained. Ruby Bell was not just a girl. Celia knew what she was and how she had become that way. Celia was one of the few women in Liberty who knew about the pit fires.

Oprah's note:
So much revealed about Celia in one paragraph. The way she keeps house. She values pretty things. That the sofa is mint and velour and encased in plastic—all precious insights. We go another layer down, into an even deeper understanding of who she is and why.

Chapter 20

The Dyboù had been walking through the same piney woods for the past thirty-seven years.

Oprah's note:
Whoa! Revelation. Surprise. Shock! The Dyboù IS the Reverend.

Chapter 21

In spite of all of this, Ruby and Ephram kept right on living. While Ruby hid the sweet ache Ephram's presence gave her, she would turn over a small smile or a gently look now and again.

Oprah's note:
Sweet ache: she's trying to trust but not sure she can.

Ruby smiled. Ephram took off his shirt and slacks and shone like dark wood against the white of his undergarments. They sat on the bed, brown against caramel, breathing in the scent of gardenia as the rain began to rage.

Oprah's note:
I just love this scene. Can see them sitting on the bed. Can hear the rain raging.

"I'm telling. But it's hard to grab ahold of where to start."

Ruby felt Ephram slide closer and pet her tenderly on the forehead, then along the turn of her neck. "I ain't goin' nowhere, Ruby. You spin it how you see fit."

Oprah's note:
Acceptance. Assurance and love expressed in one sentence.

Then Mr. Green walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. He motioned to Ruby. "Come here, sweetheart." And Ruby did. "My good little girl sits on my right, like Jesus."

Oprah's note:
This is all so unspeakable. I was holding my breath while reading it. And wondering could I recommend this book to the world? Yes, child prostitution and child trafficking are vividly displayed. This is disgusting yet shockingly real.

So Ruby died with her. Where was she? Ruby looked wildly around the room. Then high up, she saw Tanny shooting up through the ceiling, and she wailed, "Wait! I'm sorry! Sorry!" So Ruby lifted up, spirit to spirit, up above the tin roof, out of the gray.

Oprah's note:
So now we understand it all. Why Ruby "wears gray like rain clouds."

It was Miss P who found Ruby...

Oprah's note:
I knew I liked miss P from the start.

Ephram stood over Ruby. He saw the narrow spokes of Ruby's legs, the reed crook of her arms. She wept as if her entire body were the rising heaves and scratching sobs. There was nothing to say and so he just stood there, letting the soft of his eyes gently stroke her hair.

Oprah's note:
Such eloquence in this language. Such clarity and beauty. My heart aches for Ruby and all souls who've endured such pain. This book has been relentless. How much more can we take in? Yet I don't want it to end

Ephram started, "Ruby—you care for me. I feel it like an ax in my chest."

... Ephram took one step back, then two. The knife had hurt less.

Oprah's note:
I felt the blow. What a disappointment. Ephram now truly wounded.

Chapter 23

"Ruby no longer wandered through the piney woods. Instead she hunted, searched, ripping away branches until her fingers scraped and bled. She knew their souls were still alive. ... Ruby began to fight. She called on the roots for help."

Oprah's note:
Exalted by her recognition that she, the roots, the trees, the sky, earth, and rain are one.

He entered her completely. Sliding, filling. Then everywhere, under her fingernails, through her tear ducts, her eardrums and open mouth, like swallowing a hurricane.

Oprah's note:
To say he entered her completely is not enough. The author leaves nothing to our imagination. She shows without a doubt what it means for darkness to fill you up.

Ephram stood still as a pine. He did not turn his head either way. So she pushed him again. Harder this time. So Ephram spun around and grabbed her hand. The singing stopped.

Oprah's note:
Breathless. Never have I EXPERIENCED a book like this. The characters became real people for me. I long for the next part of the trilogy.


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