The Little Way of Ruthie Leming follows Rod Dreher, a Philadelphia journalist, back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) in the wake of his younger sister Ruthie's death. When she was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer in 2010, Dreher was moved by the way the community he had left behind rallied around his dying sister, a schoolteacher. He was also struck by the grace and courage with which his sister dealt with the disease that eventually took her life. In Louisiana for Ruthie's funeral in the fall of 2011, Dreher began to wonder whether the ordinary life Ruthie led in their country town was in fact a path of hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher. In order to explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife decided to leave Philadelphia, move home to help with family responsibilities and have their three children grow up amidst the rituals that had defined his family for five generations - Mardi Gras, L.S.U. football games, and deer hunting.
As David Brooks poignantly described Dreher's journey homeward in a recent New York Times column, Dreher and his wife Julie "decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being part of a community."
©2013 Rod Dreher (P)2013 Hachette Audio
Although the book is set in St. Francisville, Louisiana, the book has little southern flair. It has more of a small town feel. It is as if the author wrote the book and throw in the deep south references for dramatic appeal.
The book portrays Ruth as a saint. She is always doing for others. She stayed while her brother went north to find himself and his career. She remains upbeat throughout her difficult days dealing with cancer. She is almost too real to be true.
What struck me most was the masks everyone wore. Ruth didn't see a doctor until the cancer had progressed to terminal. She refused to know the details of her disease. She hide behind the mask of denial until it claimed her life.
Rather then dealing with her issues with her brother, she died living some festering wounds that poisoned his nieces. Each hide behind their masks until it was too late to heal the rift.
Their parents hid their true feelings. After Ruth dies, her brother moves back to their home town with his family only to find they were still the outsiders. His father lays on him a revelation that throws his decision to stay in limbo.
It is a good book in that it makes you realize now is the time to make peace with family and friends. We never know what path life will take, so we must live in harmony with all.
The reader has a lisp but as he continues reading it is less noticeable.
If you are looking for a light read, this is it.
Perhaps as more reviews accumulate (than the small statistical sampling as of my review), the book will settle in with solid 4's across the board as it deserves, though I think that the author's narration is not only a 5, but a reason to listen to the audio over the printed text. I am not reading the lower reviews, apprehensive that I will be tempted to refute them. With even sketchy knowledge of Rod Dreher's professional bio, his transition, even metamorphosis, is impactful enough. His skillful and surprisingly vulnerable translation of the family history and his sister's illness and death into text is a bravura performance. The book is really an achievement, even for an uber-intelligent professional. I return to the narration--if a prospective reader is looking for yet another tiresome performance attempting to translate a book to some kind of audio-only stage play, or another reading with melodrama that makes taking a drink from a water fountain sound more like a baptism with holy water, move on. The low key narration is a wonder, in fact perfect. More, more.
I always give a book the benefit of the doubt and will plough through for quite a few chapters before deciding it's not worth my time. I was about to give up on this when a flicker of hope sparked my interest and so I read on. The first half of the book is pretty much written as if the author were only telling a story in which only his immediate family would be interested. It really came off as more of a eulogy (and not an unfamiliar one) of a cancer victim who in death was remembered as sinless instead of as a human being. But then came a peek into the truth and that is what kept me reading. Toward the end, we are brought along with the author as the whole paradigm the author had of Ruthie, his family, and his world is excruciatingly dismantled. At the very end, the author seems to slip back into his earlier paradigm which was a bit exasperating. And so, it seems I must follow this into the next book to see if he ever gets sorted and where it leads him spiritually and philosophically. I hope I'm not sorry I did so. Only my review of the sequel will tell! I gave this book a three star but may return to upgrade it if the sequel proves this first book was necessary to set the background information in which case they really should have been just one book. Perhaps it WAS just one book until the publishers made demands!
Say something about yourself!
I really struggled with this book. I loved the idea of it as a debate between city living and a country life and the inherent worth of each, and really wanted that debate and the author's final answer to resonate. And here and there pieces did; some of the discussion of spirituality in particular felt quite meaningful to me.
The rest of the book though felt forced and inauthentic. The whole thing tried to idolize the author's sister while leaving the reader with a sense that she really wasn't that great after all. She had long standing problems with the author that she refused to resolve, she never really understood her brother, and her abject refusal to face the possibility of her death left her family (and herself) totally unprepared to face it in the end. The author claims that this wasn't cowardice but his justification doesn't sell, and even his telling of the story leaves the reader feeling that the sister, while managing to endure great suffering with a smile, was too immature to face what truly needed to be done and left others to suffer for the result.
The result of that feeling inauthentic was to detract meaningfully from the author's final perspective shift on small town living. He had thoughtful discussions of what it means to put down roots and build real connections that were interesting and thought provoking to read, but he left unresolved so many of the issues he'd set up earlier in the book about why he'd left home in the first place.
This all leaves you with a sense that the author moved home to build roots, and did so because he'd reached a point where wanting that outweighed the meaningful problems he and his family might face by living there. It did not solve or really even address any of those problems, and the final pages of the book even discussed how unresolved some of those issues with his sister were. The author leaves them unresolved in the absence of alternative choices but the reader is left feeling like the author's sister was rather petty and small minded with her own brother.
As someone who wanted this book's message to resonate, this was a deeply unsatisfying result. I agree with large piece of his premise but I wish he'd executed it in a way that made you feel like the characters were likable instead of just inflexible, ignorant, or immature.
Yes. The insights into the essential and important elements of life worth bear repeating.
Rod. His transition from escapee to returning home was remarkable in our day and age.
The voice reading is amazing, placing you in the small Louisiana community of Star Hill in a way simply reading could not do.
Definitely made me cry, and also made me laugh. Ruthie's life was a profound expression of the lives we ought all to strive for while we can.
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