I fell into Rubies from Burma like it was a worn down, but oh-so-comfortable sofa. I knew Mae Lee from the first moment I met her. She has all the force of character and curiosity of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird without the off-putting vernacular.
The novel is set in Georgia in the 1940’s and forward. The era was depicted with authenticity with nods toward the past that take us there. When one of the character’s ordered a “cherry dope” I smiled, hearing my mother talk about time spent at the drug store with her sister and the sugary concoctions they would share. Duke’s struggles with shell-shock after the war made me understand my uncle Loren, who I learned not to sneak up on one memorable family reunion. Chap’s hot-headedness, which never turned to aggression but was harbored just below the surface, set the tone for Mae Lee’s childhood home. Her mother’s frailty but genuine goodness was nicely articulated. Ava. Oh Ava, Mae Lee's beautiful and willful older sister, we all know that woman who has to be center stage for every man. Some of us may have been that woman. The tragedy of her story won’t be missed.
The reader grows up with Mae Lee from puberty to adulthood. Her childish infatuation with Duke, her sister Ava’s beau, shapes the formation of her identity and the course of her life. She knows that Ava is selfish and that she does not love Duke, not the way Mae Lee does, but Ava is beautiful and coy. She is a master of manipulating the male affection. Mae Lee feels invisible next to her. But when push comes to shove Mae Lee must make a dicision to honor her familial relationship or not and it scores deep.
This novel is layers deep. Small details introduced subtly on one page set the stage for events that will happen chapters down the road. It is intricately woven with complex family relationship, loss, love, jealousy, hope, and sacrifice. It is timeless. It will stay with you long after the last word on the page.
I listened to it twice. The narrator was Sara Van Beckum and while the accent felt a little heavy when I first started, it felt like home by the third chapter. She does a fantastic job of capturing Mae Lee’s enthusiasm and heartbreak.