Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Virtuous Woman, by Kaye Gibbons

By Christina VanGinkel

This story begins four months after Ruby Pitt Woodrow has died and left her second husband, Blinking Jack Stokes alone. He has eaten through all of the carefully prepared packages of food she left him tied together in the freezer, and he suddenly has to come to terms with just how much he misses his wife. When she found out that she had cancer, and not long to live, she did what she always did, she took care of him the best she could. That is the basis of this whole book. How respect for another person can make even love seem trivial.

Ruby Pitt Woodrow and Blinking Jack Stone had met after she had run off from her well to do Carolina gentry family to be with who she thought was the lover of her life, the lowly John Woodrow. He was actually less than a con artist, more of just a facade, hoping to gain something by marrying a girl from the right side of the tracks. All she ended up with was the bad timing to walk in on him with another woman, a girl actually, all of about sixteen years old. John Woodrow took off that very same day, running off not only with the girl, but also with all of Ruby's fine lacy under things that she had taken with her when she left home, items she had kept wrapped up for safekeeping. While they were only things, they were the things that reminded her of her home, her family, a nearly picture perfect life, that she ended up throwing away for an illusion.

Little did she know that day though, that she would win in a sense, as she ended up never seeing him again, when three days later he turned up beaten up and stabbed, after getting on the wrong side of yet somebody else. When he died a few days later, Ruby was a free woman. She was too embarrassed to go back home to her family, and in the end, she married the older, but caring, Jack Stokes, the very man who broke the news to her that he man had been beaten and stabbed, and later that he had died, when his lungs collapsed. The life she would end up with might not have been the life she dreamed of, but it was not all bad.

Their life unfolds in an unlikely way, with two very different people, coming together to make a life. You get to meet some of the same people who made their lives what they were too, such as Burr, Tiny Fran, Lonnie Hoover, and June. June is as central to the story as any of the characters. She is the child that they never had, yet ended up doing a good portion of her raising. These people make this story work, they make you care about them, and they make you hate some of them.

Well, a the story begins four months after her passing, the second chapter jumps backwards in time, and you get to meet the love of Blinking Jack Stokes life herself, Ruby Pitt Woodrow, when she introduces you to what made her who she was. She talks to you as you are sitting right there next to her, and for this particular story, this format works very well. Not only do you get to meet her, you begin to care for her, as she relays to you how she felt when Jack tried to make light of her dying, by telling her she was to mean to die. Even after that, she has regrets, but not about what he said, but about how she handled it.

The chapters take you back and forth, with a chapter telling you Jack's side of their life, and the next chapter devoted to Ruby's explanations. Each is fascinating in its own way, and the story has the capability to make you care for these two very different individuals, who in the end share one very common denominator, each other.

If you are looking for a love story with a twist, or a book with much more background than a novel with double the pages could possibly provide, then this is the book for you. It is only 165 pages long, but that can be a good thing, as you will not want to put it down once you start reading it!

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