In The Book of Ruth, the main character Ruth has a lifetime full of unhappinesses. Her mother is bitter and scarred and less than loving from having lost her husband in World War II. Her education limits her options because her abilities are not scholastic ones. Her brother does well in school and he and Ruth both know that his education will be his road to a happier life. Ruth works in a dry cleaner amidst chemical smells and heat all day. She has the misfortune to become attached to a misfit stoner because she mistakes attention and greedy need for affection and love. They marry but her unhappiness grows because he can not keep a job and they are forced to live on Ruth's small salary and continue to live in her mother's house. The unhappiness Ruth has always known because of her mother intensifies as Ruth's possession of a husband sears with burning coals her mother's stale bitterness over the loss of hers. Then into all this unhappiness Ruth's baby is born leading to the ultimate unhappiness of Ruth's life.
[eNotes has no Study Guides for The Book of Ruth as yet, so below are reliable links to information on and an interview with author Jane Hamilton.]