Ruby: A Novel

Ruby: A Novel

by Ann Hood

NOOK Book(eBook)

$10.99 $17.99 Save 39% Current price is $10.99, Original price is $17.99. You Save 39%.
View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now
LEND ME® See Details


A grieving young widow and a pregnant teenager find an uncommon friendship in a luminous, deeply moving novel  
After a college student speeding in a blue Honda Civic kills her husband of less than a year, Olivia is completely lost. One hot summer day, she walks into the beachfront Rhode Island cottage she and David bought the previous August—the place where they had planned to someday start a family—and finds a stranger sitting at her kitchen table.  
Pregnant fifteen-year-old Ruby is looking for a safe haven for herself and her baby-to-be. Olivia takes her in, desperate to assuage her grief through human connection, even with a troubled teenager. But Ruby has something else that Olivia wants. When she agrees to let Olivia adopt her unborn child, Olivia’s life begins to change in ways she never imagined.
A story of love, loss, and unexpected friendship, Ruby introduces two women who help each other move on with their lives in a world where there are no easy answers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480466869
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 01/28/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 225
Sales rank: 939,969
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Ann Hood was born in West Warwick, Rhode Island. She is the author of the bestselling novels The Knitting CircleThe Red Thread, and The Obituary Writer. Her memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, was named one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her other novels include Somewhere Off the Coast of MaineWaiting to VanishThree-Legged HorseSomething BluePlaces to Stay the NightThe Properties of Water, and Ruby. She has also written a memoir, Do Not Go Gentle: My Search for Miracles in a Cynical Time; a book on the craft of writing, Creating Character Emotions; and a collection of short stories, An Ornithologist’s Guide to Life.

Her essays and short stories have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic MonthlyTin HousePloughshares, and the Paris Review. Hood has won awards for the best American spiritual writing, travel writing, and food writing; the Paul Bowles Prize for Short Fiction; and two Pushcart Prizes. She now lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband and their children.
Ann Hood was born in West Warwick, Rhode Island. She is the author of the bestselling novels The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, and The Obituary Writer. Her memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, was named one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her other novels include Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, Waiting to Vanish, Three-Legged Horse, Something Blue, Places to Stay the Night, The Properties of Water, and Ruby. She has also written a memoir, Do Not Go Gentle: My Search for Miracles in a Cynical Time; a book on the craft of writing, Creating Character Emotions; and a collection of short stories, An Ornithologist’s Guide to Life.

Her essays and short stories have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, Ploughshares, and the Paris Review. Hood has won awards for the best American spiritual writing, travel writing, and food writing; the Paul Bowles Prize for Short Fiction; and two Pushcart Prizes. She now lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband and their children. 

Read an Excerpt


A Novel

By Ann Hood


Copyright © 1999 Ann Hood
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6686-9


Dear Amanda

Olivia had so many things that she wanted to tell the girl who killed her husband that she wasn't even sure where to begin. For example, she wanted the girl to know that she, Olivia, had once been someone who used to hum in public places, in an absent way that made people scowl at her. Still, she found herself doing it as she waited in line at the post office or for a spot at an ATM. She had been a hummer all her life, even humming in appreciation when she ate something she found especially delicious. During the trailers at movies, someone always shushed her, or turned to glare. "Sorry," she'd whisper. But before she knew it, she was humming again. Maybe if she hummed an actual tune, she'd often thought, people would not mind so much. But she hummed randomly, absently, without direction.

She wrote:

Dear Amanda, since you killed my husband, I don't hum anymore. My mother used to say that I hummed before I even talked. I hummed one way for yes and another way for no. I hummed something that meant good night and something that meant bye-bye. In my baby book—and my mother kept scrupulous records of everything from bowel movements to ounces gained each month—under the column that says "First Words," my mother wrote that I didn't talk; I hummed. So for thirty-seven years, I've hummed my way through life. And now I feel like I can't even remember how to do it. If I press my lips together and try, I sound like I'm strangling.

But humming wasn't what Olivia really wanted to talk about with the girl, Amanda. So she tore up each new letter and threw it away.

Olivia was a milliner. She made hats and sold them in a small shop on St. Mark's Place in the East Village. Long before Amanda killed her husband by running him down while he was jogging, long before Olivia even had a husband, she had this shop. It was sandwiched between an occult store and a store that over the years changed from one that sold used clothing to one that sold used books, until finally it was once again a store that sold used clothing.

Olivia's shop was called the Rose Tattoo because she was unable to remove those words from its one front window. The old Rose Tattoo sold memorabilia of famous gay men—like James Dean and Tennessee Williams. People still came in and asked for a James Dean calendar or postcards of Liberace's piano-shaped pool without even noticing the antique hat forms Olivia had bought at a flea market, or the hats that sat on top of those forms. Other times, people came in to get tattooed, thrusting pictures of Yosemite Sam or floral arrangements at Olivia and asking how much. They pointed to shoulders, hips, ankles. "How much for one here? Or here?" She always apologized and opened her arms to point at her hats. "I make hats," she would explain.

To reach the Rose Tattoo, one had to walk down five steps and then turn right. The steps led to the occult shop, with its magical candles and books and tarot-card readers. Olivia always paused and waved to whoever was at the cash register. Over the years, she'd come to know them all. While she unlocked the grate over her shop's door, the guy who ran the used-clothing shop would open his own door and say, "Oh, it's you. You scared the shit out of me." Then he'd go back inside his shop.

This trio of stores was hidden from view at street level. But there were signs with big arrows pointing the way. Often, Olivia had to rouse someone sleeping off a binge of some kind in the little walkway in front of the stores, or ask the young teenagers who liked to congregate there and smoke pot and read out loud books they'd bought at the occult store to please leave. But once she stepped inside, she did nothing but make, trim, design, and sell women's hats. The shop smelled vaguely of falafels from the restaurant above it and of wet wool and incense and mothballs. To Olivia, it was the most wonderful combination of smells anywhere. She was certain that if someone blindfolded her and led her here, she would recognize it instantly by its unique aroma.

It was here, in the Rose Tattoo, that Olivia had met her husband. That was another thing she would like Amanda to know, the story of how David and Olivia met. She would like to tell Amanda about her life before David, too, because somehow that made finding him—and losing him—even more important. Sometimes when Olivia tried to write a letter to Amanda, these were the things she thought of. "Dear Amanda," she'd write, "I was a woman who liked to dance alone. In my apartment, in my hat shop, I would put on music and close my eyes and dance. What I liked to play most was the tape of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald singing together. Their rendition of 'They Can't Take That Away from Me' always sent me twirling across the floor."

On the winter night that David walked into the Rose Tattoo, that's exactly what Olivia was doing: dancing alone while Louis and Ella crooned "They Can't Take That Away from Me." It was Valentine's Day. For Olivia, it was the first Valentine's Day without her long-term live-in boyfriend, Josh, and she was planning on celebrating. At home, she had a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator, which she planned to drink with a take-out Indian dinner, alone. She had a new apartment, so small that she cleaned the floor with a Dustbuster instead of a vacuum cleaner. For a thousand dollars a month, she got one room on Avenue A, a galley kitchen with a bathtub in it, and a tiny balcony where she stood every morning and drank her coffee—it was too small for chairs to fit.

When she glided, eyes closed, right into David, she stopped and gasped. Olivia thought she had put up the CLOSED sign, but she saw the window signless except for the curlicue writing of the store's name.

"I'm here for a hat," he said, grinning.

Olivia frowned at him. Unlike her humming, her dancing was a private thing. In her years with Josh, he'd never caught her at it.

"We're closed," she said.

She saw that he was clutching a wrinkled clipping from New York magazine's "Best Bets" column about her hats.

Still grinning, he took a step toward her. Behind them, Louis and Ella were reaching a crescendo in their singing.

"It's Valentine's Day," he said.

Then he did the most unexpected thing. He took her hand in his, placed his other one around her waist, and danced a perfect waltz. She heard him humming softly to himself as he spun her away from him, then into him. The humming made her nervous.

The song ended, and he released her as easily as he had taken her.

Olivia stepped back to look at him. He had curly brown hair and eyes too close to his nose. But it was a lovely nose, straight and Roman, slightly too large for his face. His teeth were also a bit too large, and very white. He had on a beat-up leather bomber jacket, faded jeans, and sneakers, despite the winter slush in the streets. Olivia liked the face she was studying. Josh had been shorter, blonder, with broad Scandinavian features. He had always worn black: boots, pants, jacket. A bit of bright blue poked out from the collar of this guy's jacket and made Olivia smile. But he was moving past her, toward the hats.

She stayed in the middle of the floor and watched him.

"What's with the name of this place?" he said as he rubbed the felt brim of a hat between his thumb and forefinger.

"Well, The Rose Tattoo was a play—"

"I know that," he said, without turning toward her. "Tennessee Williams." He picked up another hat, a buttercup yellow felt one with black trim, and looked at Olivia. "I saw his house once," he said. "In Key West. So tiny, like a miniature house, a doll's house. With these tomato-colored shutters. I don't know why, but I stood in front of it for a very long time and it made me so sad."

He's probably a frustrated writer, she thought, almost satisfied. Nothing was worse than a wannabe writer or actor or artist.

"I thought budding writers went to Key West to see Hemingway's house," she said.

"That was a bit of a letdown," he said. He handed the hat to her. "Would you mind trying this on? To give me an idea, that's all."

Olivia put it on her head and pulled it low, the way a person was supposed to wear hats.

"Of course, she's much taller than you," he said absently. "And she doesn't have those wonderful ripples of hair."

He traced the air on both sides of her head, drawing curly lines with his fingers. Olivia reminded herself how much she was enjoying her still-new independence. She had hung every painting in her apartment exactly where she wanted, had bought sheets in a girlie pink, had arranged the silverware and glasses in the order she preferred. At night, she ate in bed, let her cat, Arthur, eat out of her dish, watched whatever she pleased, sometimes sleeping with the television on all night. Plus, she didn't have to trip over Josh's ridiculous bass every time she walked through the dark to the bathroom. It was so large, it had been like a third roommate.

He sighed. "She does look good in yellow."

Olivia took off the hat and tried to smooth her uncontrollable hair. It had been damp all day and now rain splattered the shop's windows. Her hair frizzed and curled, had a mind of its own.

"It's a great hat," she offered. "Your wife will love it. Women are always extremely satisfied with my hats."

He held up the wrinkled clipping. "So it says."

No wedding ring, Olivia noticed as he reached for his wallet. But also no correction on the word wife. She reminded herself how she'd sworn off dating until summer. After six years with someone, she thought six months alone was more than necessary.

"What's that?" he said.


"I thought you were humming something."

Olivia cleared her throat and busied herself wrapping the hat, writing up the sale.

"Check okay?" he asked.

She pointed to the sign taped to the counter. "Make it out to me. Here's how you spell it."

He let out a low whistle. "Bertolucci," he said. "That's a mouthful."

"We're Americanized, though. TV dinners. Lots of lime green and raspberry clothing. The works."

"Well," he said, handing her his check, "I'm from California. No ethnicity at all. Just Californian. Third generation, which is really something."

"Pioneers," she said. She held out the hat in its hat box to him.

His name was David Henderson and he lived across town, in the West Village.

She didn't expect him to walk out the door just like that, but he did. He turned and said, "Thanks for the dance." But before she could answer, he was gone.

At home, there was a bouquet of roses from Josh, sitting on the landing in front of her door. She supposed they should make her miss him, but they didn't. That was how ready she had been to move on. For the occasion, she'd strung lights shaped like red hearts around her rubber tree, and she turned them on now, refusing to think about David Henderson, the wannabe writer who used words like tomato-colored and was one hell of a good dancer. Her best friend, Winnie, had a date, or else Olivia would have called her to ask why, just when a person got her life the way she wanted it, another person popped in and turned everything upside down. Not that David Henderson had done that exactly. But Olivia recognized that he easily could. He with the brown curls and smooth steps. He with the wife, she reminded herself. A wife who looked good in yellow.

Olivia ate her tandoori chicken, her saag paneer, her samosas. She let Arthur lick her plate clean and then kiss her on the lips with his curry breath.

"Arthur," she said, digging her fingers into the cat's fur, just the way he liked it, "we're headed for something."

She didn't know what that something was, but she felt it coming, as strong and reckless as a hurricane running its unpredictable course.

Olivia wasn't exactly surprised to see him the next day. In fact, when he walked in the door of her shop ten minutes after she opened, she felt her bones and muscles and organs shift and settle. And, even deeper, her cells. Her goddamn DNA. It was what she had kept waiting for all the years with Josh and his bass. She had waited and waited and it had never happened.

"She didn't like it?" Olivia said.

In his hands, David held the hat. He twirled it around and Olivia thought that if she stared at it long enough, it might turn into butter. There was, she noticed, a dent in the crown.

"You should never break up with someone on Valentine's Day," he said. "Especially someone you've been with almost forever, who knew you when it was cool to have an Afro and wear bell-bottoms."

Olivia was listening and frowning, but she couldn't stop watching his hands twirling that dented hat.

"She threw it at me," he said.

"'Break up' means you're not married," Olivia said.

"Right. If I was married, I'd have to divorce her."

Olivia nodded.

"Your hair," he said, and this time he didn't trace the air in front of her. Instead, he put down the hat and touched her face, and then her hair. "It's even curlier."

"I was blocking the wool for some hats." She pointed behind her to the spot where a big pot of water boiled on a hot plate. "It makes my hair do this."

"Do you want to dance?" he asked her.

"Yes," she said. "I do."

Months later, after she had moved in with him and married him and lost him to Amanda driving her blue Honda Civic around a curve one bright sunny September morning, Olivia thought, Dear Amanda, I am not the kind of person who does something like move to the West Village to live with a guy I've known for something like six weeks. I mean, Amanda, it took me almost four years to move in with my last boyfriend, Josh, and even when I did, I kept my real apartment, subletting it to one of the witches from the occult store next to my hat shop. I am not the kind of person to marry someone I've known for four months. What I'm telling you, Amanda, you stupid, careless little shit, is this was love. The big one. And you took it away from me. "Dear Amanda," Olivia wrote. "I hate you."

They had moved in together and fought.

"Who are you?" she'd scream at him.

She threw things, too: Arthur's dish, old hats, the flowers he brought her to make up for their last fight.

The witch who sublet her apartment told Olivia that fire signs and air signs were good for each other. "Trust me," she said. "Your Libra and his Leo are perfect. And both of your moons are in Cancer. Perfect."

"Oh, shut up," Olivia said.

Sometimes she longed for those few months alone in her tiny studio on Avenue A. Sometimes she missed her twinkling red heart lights, her nights sleeping with Arthur purring beside her. How could she have left her freedom behind so quickly? She and Josh had finally broken up and stayed broken up, and what did she do? She had gone and fallen for a guy because he made her body feel like it all fit together right. Like it fit together right with his body, she reminded herself.

"My mother always told me to marry at the height of your love," David said after one of their fights. "Then you have that to keep you going in all the hard years ahead."

"Your mother has been married three times," Olivia said. "I don't know if I would trust her."

"Because she never married at the height!" He took Olivia's hands in his and looked straight in her eyes. Whenever he did that, she felt as if he were somehow boring through her skull and reading her brain waves.

"Don't be creepy," she said.

"Listen. She went through the dating period, the get-to-know-you period, the living- together period, the engagement period. By the time she got married, she was already disappointed."


"So just because you tend to be bossy and domineering—"

"Excuse me?" Olivia said.

"And also fly off the handle over the stupidest things—"

"Like being called bossy and domineering, Mr. Disorganized? Mister Can't Make Up His Mind? 'I don't know if I want the Bay Burrito or the Enchilada Embarcadero? I can't decide. They're both good, but I've been eating a lot of poultry lately —' "

"My point is, we should just get married now."

Had that been in my brain waves? Olivia thought. She blinked hard and shook her head from side to side.

"This," David said, satisfied, "is our height."

"And to think all you wanted was a hat," Olivia said as they waited in line at City Hall to get married.

"What ever happened to her?" Winnie asked. She was one of the witnesses.


Excerpted from Ruby by Ann Hood. Copyright © 1999 Ann Hood. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


chapter one: Dear Amanda,
chapter two: Nouns Are the Part of Speech That Hurts,
chapter three: Wouldn't a Person Be Surprised?,
chapter four: Karma Is a Boomerang,
chapter five: Who Could Hang a Name on You?,
chapter six: Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Will You Be Mine?,
chapter seven: True Colors,
chapter eight: Babies and Mariachi,
chapter nine: Milagros,
chapter ten: Still, I'm going to Miss You,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Ruby 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found the whole book to be very depressing and boring. In the end I found that I didn't feel sorry for Olivia as much as tired of her self loathing. I didn't like Ruby's character at all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book and the lady who wrote it was recommended by an online book club that I belong to. I don't understand what the big deal was, the story was totally unbelievable and boring with a capital 'YAWN!' I was very, very, very, disappointed!
PaperbackPirate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To summarize, Ruby is a pregnant teenage runaway. Olivia is a thirty-something milliner (a hat maker to us common folk) whose husband was recently killed in an accident. So...Olivia retreats from her NY apartment to her Rhode Island beach bungalow (I like it when people live in cool places in books. Even if it's not realistic! I feel like I get to live there too for awhile.).I know you can't wait to read the book to find out how they meet so I'll tell you...they meet in Olivia's house after Ruby has broken in! And then Olivia decides she should adopt the baby when it's born and the broken down bungalow becomes a safe-ish haven for all three.But really it's not a sad story with a fairy tale or tragic ending. I got the feeling I was seeing how things might play out if that story actually happened out here in the real world.It's only 225 pages, and I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one day.
SeriousGrace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Olivia has lost her husband, David, to a reckless driver, killed while jogging along a country road. Olivia, only 37, is faced with immeasurable grief and the nagging guilt that she had something to do with his death. In an effort to move on with her life she resolves to sell their summer cottage and put the past behind her. Only she can't. A pregnant, defiant, wayward teen has made herself at home in Olivia and David's seemingly abandoned house. Within a few minutes of confronting her, Olivia begins to bond with Ruby, seeing more of herself in the teenager than she would like to admit. What Ruby and Olivia can admit to is the fact they need each other. From this point forward Ann Hood's storytelling is a psychological dance between the needy yet tough Olivia and the tough yet needy Ruby. Both of them want something from the other. Both are willing to manipulate the other to get it. The story becomes a page turner because you want to know who wins.