The story of a relationship between a carefully raised daughter of Carolina gentry and a skinny tenant farmer who had never owned anything in his life.
"So true and so vital I would swear that there were moments when A Virtuous Woman actually vibrated in my hands." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Complex, compact . . . onen thinks of a Lillian Hellman play. . . . The architecture of this novel is remarkable." —Padgett Powell, The New York Times Book Review
Read an Excerpt
She hasn't been dead four months and I've already eaten to the bottom
of the deep freeze. I even ate the green peas. Used to I wouldn't turn
my hand over for green peas.
My whole name is Blinking Jack Ernest Stokes, stokes the fire, stokes
the stove, stokes the fiery furnace of hell! I've got a nerve problem in
back of the face so I blink. June nicknamed me for it when she was little.
My wife's name was Ruby Pitt Woodrow Stokes. She was a real pretty
woman. Used to I used to lay up in bed and say, "Don't take it off in the
dark! I want to see it all!"
Ruby died with lung cancer in March. She wasn't but forty-five, young woman to die so early.
She used to tell me, she'd say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander. I imagine I'll
stop smoking about the time you stop drinking." June's daddy, Burr, told me one time people
feed on each other's bad habits, which might could be true except for one thing, I'm not really
what I would call a drinking man. I hardly ever take a drink except when I need one.
But Ruby died and they laid her out and crossed her hands over her bosom, and I said to them,
"I never saw her sleeping like that." They said but that's the way everybody was laid, so I said,
"Fine then, I'll let her be."
I did lean over in the coffin though and fix her fingers so the nicotine stains wouldn't show. Ruby
had the creamiest soft skin and I hated to have brown spots ruin her for people. Suppose you
went to view somebody who'd died being shot or stabbed somewhere so you'd notice. Don't
you know they'd fill in with some kind of spackle and smooth it over to match him? Sure they
would! Same thing only different with Ruby's two ashy-smelling fingers.
God, you ought to've seen her in the hospital, weak, trying to sit up, limp as a dishrag. She'd lost
down so much, looked like she'd literally almost shook all the meat off, all that coughing and
spewing up she'd done. If you want to feel helpless as a baby sometime, you go somewhere and
watch such as that. Seemed like every time she'd cough a cold shudder'd run up and down me.
I sat with her long as they'd let me that night, then I had to leave. I stuck my head up under her
tent and said to her, "'Night, 'night, Ruby. I'm headed back to the Ponderosa with Burr. I'll see
you first thing in the morning." Then she put those two ashy-smelling fingers up to her mouth like
either she was blowing me a kiss or telling me to hush a little. And while I was looking at her and
trying to figure out which one she meant, I realized she wasn't motioning love or to hush to me.
She was wanting a cigarette, asking me for one. I thought, Well I will be damned. And I said,
Hard as that woman worked to get over too good a life then too bad a life, what a pity, what a
shame to see this now.
I hated to but I had to call it selfish, not like the Ruby I knew. But I suppose when you're that
bad off and you're not here, not gone either, I suppose you can get to the point that you are all
that matters to yourself, and thinking about yourself is the last thing left you can remember how to
do. So you're bound to go on and forgive it. And after it all, after it's all said and done, I'll still
have to say, Bless you, Ruby. You were a fine partner, and I miss you.
Meet the Author
Kaye Gibbons lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, Michael, and their three daughters, Mary, Leslie, and Louise. Her first novel, Ellen Foster, was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and was accorded a special citation by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation.
- Raleigh, North Carolina, and New York, New York
- Date of Birth:
- May 5, 1960
- Place of Birth:
- Nash County, North Carolina
- Attended North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1978-1983
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
This true-to-life book captivated me from the first page. I savored it so much that I read it again, years later. Kaye has a wonderful gift. She can express everyday woes, idiosyncrasies, regrets, and love as if she lived it herself. The best, is that this book is not loaded with sugar, but is realistic, heart wrenching, and even insightful.
I read this book during the spring semester of my freshman year of college. I was reading it basically for a change from the usual biology and chemistry books that I had been reading. I ended up writing an eight page paper over this book for my World Lit. class, and I got an A. I am a student at the highest rated public school in my state. This novel told the story of an uncommon love between two very different people. The language is simple. Allowing Jack and Ruby to narrate the novel gives more depth to the characters, and makes understanding thier situation easier. I definitely recomend this book. This is the second of Gibbons' novels that I have read, and I plan to read her others.
Excellent book where the story is told from both points of view. Ruby's story is of her past. Jack's is both present and past. Sometimes you get the story from both points. Other times, it is only one view. I got into the story and could not put it down. I felt the pain of both Ruby and Jack. I cried I was so into their lives. It was hard to let go. Well done! A keeper.
This book was simply okay. It took me over a month to read, and I read most books in a couple of days. Very slow reading.
I especially enjoyed the narrative switching between the two characters. This gave the reader much more insight into each character.