By Marlene S. Lewis
Troubador Publishing Ltd.
At 327 pages Ruth would be too long were it merely a love story with an interesting twist. However, this story of a young woman from her first sexual awakening to a new beginning in middle age is also the story of colonial racism in Australia in the fifties and the consequences of this racism that are passed on from one generation to the next. In addition to this major theme there are sub themes of classicism and sexism that come up in the stories of subsidiary characters Ruth encounters on her journey.
I’ve been known to say that while non-fiction makes us aware of social problems, fiction has more power to make us care about social problems. I should amend that to say that it is the stories of individuals more than statistics that create empathy and a passion to change what is wrong in our societies. So whether a story is fictional or real is not the issue here but whether it is compelling enough to inspire readers to want to do something about the injustices of racism, classicism, sexism as we recognize them around us in addition to helping us recognize them in the first place.
In Ruth, Marlene S. Lewis tells a fictional story that feels absolutely real and as a reader I feel like I could hear the voices of Ruth, Lindsay, Tommy, Joyce, Aggie, Stephanie, Ali, Lachlan, Josh and others as if I’d known them. The author has mastered the craft of creating characters with the particular idiosyncracies that make them believable individuals, each and every one. She makes us know them, care about them, hear and respond to what they have to say. There is the usual disclaimer at the beginning that the book is a work of fiction and any resemblance of the characters to real people is purely coincidental. I would add that such resemblance is due to the author’s gifts of observation and insight. The style is matter of fact. Because the facts themselves are dramatic the author has no need to overdramatize events, she simply tells them and we are moved, sometimes shocked, at the simple recitation of the realistically imagined facts.
Because the book depicts so many realistic instances of important universal social issues, Ruth is a book I highly recommend to bookclubs who are looking for spirited discussion of the social dynamics that affect us all, everywhere at some time and all the time somewhere.