By Ashley E. Sweeney

ISBN 978-1647422332

368 pages

Published by She Writes Press

Reviewed by Charles Johnson

The first chapter (both pages) gives it all:  Here’s Ruby Fortune in all her guts and verve, in her own version of style.  There’s a driving swagger to the heroine with no apologies to social norms or politically correct ways expected of women of the west.  She’s a survivor of a circus world of Wild West shows, abusive roustabouts at carnivals, and a particularly sleazy dude – I use the word ‘survivor’ for a reason that I won’t go into now.

Here’s Ruby, a loved but unguided young girl at first, with adventures that would consume any young lady.  Not Ruby.  She develops into an experienced, wise and controlled figure in her community.  Yet, she exudes flaws that may bring her downfall – notice: I said “may”.  Various characters in her life pull and push on Ruby’s options.  Travel with her great friend? Be the best mother she can be to her troupe of four boys, each flawed in ways that defy parenthood?  The miner who meanders through her life?  Those who abandon her?  The local law official, who seems to waver in so many ways? 

Ruby Fortune lives in a dusty, hot, sunburned desert world of a small-time mining town of Arizona in the 1890s.  Here she is, having bested previous trials, running a mildly successful business in the scrabbled territories of the mining crazes of the era.  Here she is, facing social pressures as she cannot (or refuses to) follow community expectations. It is hot, dusty, snake-bitten town that can’t seem to decide to accept or reject our Ruby.  After all, she carries her own firearms at will; she’s nowhere near shy with her opinions and actions.  Yet, she reserves moments for those quiet walks (sometimes alone, sometimes with that one special son) in the post-sunset walks in the desert where she reflects on life.

The author Sweeney, by the way, tells Ruby’s story all in present tense, which is an intense exercise for both writer and reader.  This review is an attempt at it – I could barely hang on for one page.  Ms. Sweeney did it for almost 400 pages.

In the end, the reader learns if Ruby Fortune complacently rides off into the sunset – or with some other distant goal in her sights.  The reader, as the first chapter says, is challenged to make the pick as to which occurs.