(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Ann Hood, who was born and lives in Rhode Island, has published six previous novels, which have consistently been praised for their clear storylines and keen details about interesting characters. Ruby (1998) continues this pattern, showcasing Hood’s ability to engage the reader with sharply delineated personalities and a straightforward plot.

Hood’s handling of the plot in Ruby is especially interesting because it seems so simple. A woman wants to adopt the forthcoming baby of a homeless, unwed, pregnant teenager. Olivia Henderson (her last name is mentioned in passing only once) is a thirty-seven-year-old woman whose husband, David, was killed when he was jogging around a blind curve near their vacation home in Rhode Island. A car driven by a college student struck David and killed him. The novel opens a few months after the accident. Olivia has not been able to get on with her life and is still mourning the loss of her beloved husband, to whom she had been married only about a year. Two weeks before his death, they had enthusiastically decided to begin a family, and she is especially haunted by the memory that on the morning of the accident she had casually refused David’s attempts at lovemaking because she had wanted to sleep longer. He instead had gone jogging, and she had stayed in bed, not even telling him goodbye or watching him leave.

Amanda, the college student who was driving the car that hit David, comes with friends to Olivia’s small millinery shop in New York City, wanting and needing to know that Olivia does not hold her responsible for the death. Olivia, though, dismisses her. Olivia feels that if she does not have someone else to blame, she will have to accept all the responsibility herself, since David would not have been on the curving road at the wrong moment if she had not refused his advances. Throughout the novel, Olivia mentally starts many letters beginning “Dear Amanda” but is unable to finish them.

At the insistence of her sister Amy and her friend Winnie, Olivia finally leaves New York’s East Village in the middle of summer and returns to the house in Rhode Island, presumably to sell it and see if that will help her start a new life, or at least enable her to get back to making hats to sell in the millinery shop. She has not been able to do that; instead, she keeps remembering that she had first met David when he came into the shop. When she arrives at their summer house, she realizes that she is still reluctant to part with the place where she had last been with David, and she keeps delaying any sale.

One day after going for a long jog by herself, Olivia returns to the house to find inside a young girl, obviously pregnant. The girl says her name is Ruby; she has presumably broken into the house. Olivia is startled and thinks that she should telephone the police, but she has a sudden flash of insight that the girl has no place to go. Just as suddenly, she feels that somehow Ruby’s appearance is a gift from David; that the baby Ruby is carrying should be hers, the child she and David had planned to have.

Olivia is accurate in her belief that Ruby has nowhere to go. She has left her parents’ house and has been staying in a deserted fraternity house. She is fifteen years old, and her boyfriend, Ben, the nineteen-year-old father of the baby, is nowhere around. His family has sent him to teach tennis at an summer camp upstate to get him out of the area. Before Olivia can work up to proposing her plan to Ruby, Ruby herself says that she knows Olivia wants to adopt the baby when it is born. Ruby seems to agree to this arrangement, that Olivia will take care of Ruby and pay all the expenses, and Olivia goes to a lawyer to draw up legal documents to that effect. The remainder of the book, essentially, is the working out—or not working—of this idea. Ruby at times agrees and at other times says she does not see how anyone, including herself, could give up her own baby. Perhaps Ben will come back and want the child; perhaps they will go to Costa Rica or Indonesia,...

(The entire section is 1665 words.)