PEN/Hemingway Award Winner: An “enthralling” novel of a woman trapped within a tragically dysfunctional family (Entertainment Weekly).
From the New York Times–bestselling author of The Excellent Lombards and A Map of the World, this is “an extraordinary story of a family’s disintegration [that] will be compared to Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres” (People). It follows Ruth Grey, a young woman in a tiny Illinois farm town, who has lost her father to World War II, and constantly faces her unhappy mother’s wrath—when she isn’t being ignored in favor of her math-prodigy brother. As Ruth navigates her lonely life, she strives to find happiness and pleasure where she can, but the world may conspire to defeat her.
“A sly and wistful, if harrowing, human comedy . . . [An] original voice in fiction and one well worth listening to.” —The Boston Sunday Globe
“Unforgettably, beat by beat, Hamilton maps the best and worst of the human heart and all the mysterious, uncharted country in between.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Hamilton’s story builds to a shocking crescendo. Her small-town characters are as appealingly offbeat and brushed with grace as any found in Alice Hoffman’s or Anne Tyler’s novels.” —Glamour
In her first novel, Hamilton takes on a challenge too large for her talents. Ruth, the heroine, tells her story in the first person, but her limited point of view cannot do it full justice. Born and raised in small-town Illinois by a mother whose life keeps splintering, Ruth blames herself for her troubles, from the cold-blooded brother who always outsmarts her to the ne'er-do-well husband who nearly destroys her. Considered slow-witted, she has a cussed strength. Like the biblical Ruth, the Midwesterner is loyal to her wounded family, and has a talent for "stepping into other people's skin" while ignoring her own needs. Ruth's gradual self-discovery is often moving; her sharp-tongued vulnerability and whole-hearted hell-raising win our sympathy and admiration. But her transformation from victim to heroine is less convincing: Ruth's intelligence soars when she sneers, not when she mourns her errors. Another problem is uncertain plotting, with static stretches marked by obvious foreshadowings of events to come. The final violence that erupts seems exotic, not an inevitable product of clashing characters. Hamilton evokes Ruth's character marvelously, but others as seen by her are incompletely rendered.