Ruined – a memoir by Ruth Everhart: Review

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way first: yes, I have met the author. We are both members of an online group of (mostly) female clergy-types called the RevGalBlogPals. We both contributed to a book edited by the RevGals director, Martha Spong, called There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. And that’s how I came to be in possession of an Advanced Reader Copy of Ruth Everhart’s memoir, Ruined, provided by Tyndale House Publishers.

I met Ruth irl at the Festival of Faith & Writing this spring. We were at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To tell the truth, I was a little intimidated. The seats she had reserved for our online group of connected strangers were in the middle of the front row. She seemed to be surrounded by people she knew. She was confident and competent and firm on her feet, seemingly on home ground.

The college scene of Grand Rapids is a fairly major character in the book; reading the background, it becomes remarkable that this woman has found such (apparent) peace in her “homecoming” here. But her memoir is, in the end, more about redemption than rape, after all.

A difficult thing to narrate, such an intrusion, invasion, injury as rape. The level of detail which Ruth provides is objectively astonishing. As an aid to reading the story of that pivotal event, it is perversely comforting. It reduces evil to its banality. It slows the pace enough for this reader, at least, somewhat to catch her breath.

The stories of Ruth’s struggle to reconcile her rape with her faith in a providential God, and the paths and rabbit holes down which her head and heart lead her, are told with little retrospect, so that at the end, we find ourselves blinking a little in the unexpected light of a life that is good after all, if imperfect; certainly not ruined. Perhaps that is the author’s way of conveying miracle, or grace.

I am one of those horrid readers who, at a certain point, has to flick to a few pages short of the end, just to be sure of her destination. Here I found Ruth’s letter to her daughters, explaining some of her purpose in writing this book. This was the retrospect, the hindsight which, for me, tidied the narrative into a comfortable structure for an uncomfortable content. The decision not to begin the book with this perspective, though, allows the reader to walk more closely, more fully with Ruth through her journey past the spectre of ruin to the spirit of redemption, and to appreciate more thoroughly her fortitude, and forthrightness as she “continues to work out [her] own salvation with fear and trembling,” as she herself quotes from Philippians 2:12.

I am still a little awed by the author, but I think for good reason. Telling this kind of truth is a feat of remarkable faith and courage. I hope that by reading this book, a little of that might rub off on me.

Ruined, by Ruth Everhart, is published by Tyndale House Publishers this coming Tuesday, August 1. It can be ordered from the publisher, from Amazon, or from your favourite book seller today. This review refers to an advance copy that may differ from the final product.

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