Cover image for Harry & Ruth
Harry & Ruth
Owen, Howard, 1949-
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Publication Information:
Sag Harbor, NY : Permanent Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
262 pages ; 23 cm
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But he can't help it. And, in truth, neither can she. In the one short moment that was theirs, Ruth had too much pride and Harry didn't have enough courage. In the instant that defined the rest of their lives, they both hesitated and were lost, condemned to wander in a wilderness of their own making.In Harry and Ruth, Howard Owen's fifth novel, two unlikely lovers learn just how much their lives can be defined by one bad decision.They will be seasoned by wars both foreign and domestic, by Washington and state politics, by an Olympic swimmer they've both failed in different ways, by business and financial success, and by two haunted and disastrous marriages.Through it all, Harry and Ruth endure -- on paper. They begin writing one another in the fall of 1942 and never stop.Now, it's the fall of 1995, hurricane season again. Ruth Crowder Flood is 70 years old, the matriarch of a damaged, secret-hoarding family. Harry Stein is dying, and he wants to tie up a plenitude of loose ends.All that remains is for some of the famous Crowder family reserve to melt away, so that a disaffected daughter might understand everything, even the mystery of what happened to Henry Flood.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Harry and Ruth are kindred spirits, but their story is one of the road not taken. They meet in 1942--Harry, a Princeton graduate and army officer with a suitable Jewish fiancee back home; and Ruth, a 17-year-old small-town North Carolina girl--and they part five months later as true friends, lovers, and parents of an unborn child. Harry, ignorant of the pregnancy, is whisked into a wedding with another woman before being shipped overseas, while Ruth copes with being an unwed mother in that time and place. But their relationship continues through letters, as each builds a family and achieves significant success in life and politics, before their long-held secret surfaces. In his fifth novel, Owen skillfully constructs his narrative using flashbacks to gradually reveal the tale of this rare pair; and although the end is heavily weighted with major revelations, the cast of well-developed characters carries it off. A winning story of human frailty and renewal. --Michele Leber

Publisher's Weekly Review

Two star-crossed lovers take a wrong turn and spend the rest of their lives trying to find their way home in Owen's (The Measured Man) nostalgia-packed fifth novel. The tale begins on Long Island, where Harry Stein, who's dying of cancer, is being helped onto a plane. Simultaneously, Ruth Crowder, still living in Saraw, N.C., where she and Harry met, is driving to a family reunion in Florida with her son, Hank, to celebrate her 70th birthday. In recurring flashbacks, the reader learns that Harry met Ruth during WWII, at a Presbyterian church social in small-town Saraw. Though Harry is engaged to Gloria Tannebaum back home in Richmond, Va., he immediately falls in love with Ruth, who was orphaned when she was six after her parents were drowned in a hurricane.. Ruth becomes pregnant, but does not expect Harry to marry her, since his Jewish family would never accept her. Returning to Richmond, Harry marries Gloria before being shipped overseas, where he is traumatized when he is unable to save his sergeant during a battle in France, leaving the wounded man to drown in a creek. Meanwhile, Ruth gives birth to Harry's child, Naomi, whose frantic search for identity is frustrated by her mother's secretiveness. Harry and Ruth maintain a constant correspondence over the years, relating the circumstances of marriage, divorce and death; during the course of the narrative they reunite, separate and finally achieve eternal peace. In recounting his characters' travails, Owen gives too much away and thus vitiates his labored attempts at suspense. Rather than enriching the drama, the melodramatic flashbacks inhibit plot movement. Despite this problematic ogranization, Owen succeeds in capturing the yearings of two people who are always aware that they belong together, even as the years pass and life throws up one obstacle after another. Though lapses into sentimentality may annoy some readers, others will enjoy Owen's oldfashioned storytelling skills. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Harry Stein sits on his front porch, the morning breeze tickling the crap that he's claiming for hair these days. He's waiting for Bob the Driver.     Bob the Driver used to be a pharmaceutical salesman. He and his wife retired to Safe Harbor almost 10 years ago; nine years ago, Bob realized he could not live without work.     Now, he drives people between the airport and the eastern end of Long Island's south fork. Harry's only problem with Bob the Driver is that he drives the way Harry imagines he used to work -- full tilt.     Harry and Bob used to play tennis and drink together. Today, though, Harry is happy to be his passenger. The airport in Islip is not as close as it used to be.     Harry gets up and checks the front door again. He's had everything turned off. He's given away half a freezer of food to the Naughtons next door. He's told them, God help him, that their teenage son can drive the Camry once in a while "to keep the tires from going flat."     Harry dozes for a few seconds in the warm sun, and Bob the Driver wakes him up with a series of short blasts from the station wagon's horn as he roars up the driveway.     "Hey, you old goat," Bob yells. "I thought you were dead. That'd really piss me off, 'cause then you wouldn't pay me." Bob's hard, playful laugh makes Harry smile.     Bob brings the wagon to such an abrupt halt in the sandy yard that dust rises higher than his head as he jumps out and stomps around to the porch. Before Harry can get to his feet, his old friend has grabbed the two largest suitcases. Harry tries to help, bringing the smallest one, but Bob orders him to "just stay there, dammit," talking to him like a kid, really.     Harry does as he is told, though; he does that a lot lately. All that he is allowed to carry to Bob the Driver's car is his own diminished body.     These days, Harry accepts a lot of sympathy, even from guys like Bob the Driver, a guy he used to wear out on the tennis courts. But at least Bob remembers him when.     It's the other ones, when he ventures out from home, who he wishes, just once, could have seen Harry Stein in his prime -- tall, slim but not skinny, jet-black hair, dark, smooth complexion, piercing brown eyes. These days, it hurts him to come across pictures from his youth. Wearing his floppy, old-man's cap, his pants bagging as if they were handed down by a larger, healthier man, he knows he never again will be either flashy or dependable.     "Ready to go?" Bob the Driver asks, starting the car and jerking away as he asks.     Harry nods, frantically searching for the seatbelt. "Hank!" Her voice from a second-floor window encourages a dog two houses away to start barking. "Do you have that little red suitcase I packed last night?"     Ruth is still giving everything one last look: lights, locks, thermostat, hair. Hank has already taken the car to the garage and had everything possible checked. Now, distracted from his search for the flashlight he's sure is back there, somewhere, under all the luggage, he emerges and looks up.     "It's in the trunk, Momma. It must be. Everything else we own is."     She tells him she'll be there "in a minute." Hank stands up straight, stretches and leans against the car. The sun is warm, and it is -- give or take a barking dog -- quiet.     Finally, understanding that this trip might never start if he lets his mother continue checking and rechecking the already-checked, he sighs and goes upstairs.     It's already 9 a.m., and Hank hopes to reach Sugar Beach by bedtime. He is (everyone in Saraw knows) a demon driver, capable of sitting behind a steering wheel for six hours at a time, taking a 15-minute break, then driving another six.     Hank would just as soon stay here. He loves fall in the low country. The days are as crisp and blue as the new shirt he bought for the trip; the nights are cool enough for sweaters.     Behind the house, past Ruth's pumpkin patch, the cornfields have been plowed under, awaiting spring, and six boys are playing a game of tag football in a wide backyard full of still-green grass. It's a Saturday, and Hank thinks he should be fishing, or maybe painting the old shed, a college football game or a stock car race on the radio. Florida will seem like stepping back into summer.     He climbs the stairs slowly, one step at a time. On the second floor, Ruth is going from room to room. She stops at a door, hands on her hips, stands still for a few seconds, then moves on. There are six bedrooms upstairs, and Hank overtakes her at the last one.     "It's gonna be dark soon," he says.     "I know I'm forgetting something, but I can't think of what it is. I hoped it would jump out at me."     Hank assures her that anything she's forgotten probably can be bought in Florida. Finally, she surrenders. She makes sure the stove is turned off, gives the faucet in the kitchen a final twist and at last walks out the front door, which she locks and deadbolts.     Hank says he'll drive first. He doesn't add that he will also drive last and always, if he has his way. His mother, for all her accomplishments, is not what he considers interstate rated.     It's the last day of September, and they'll be back by the 5th, the day after Ruth's birthday. "Assuming," she says, "we can all get along for five days."     On the way out of town, Hank drives by Mercy's so that Ruth can leave the house key. Mercy walks out to the car, telling them to "stay put," then taking the key and wishing them a safe trip. She kisses Hank on the cheek, then walks around and gives Ruth a long hug through the window.     "Say hey to everybody," she tells her cousin and oldest friend.     They share a smile, a secret one that seems to take in all those years, all those letters. Copyright © 2000 Howard Owen. All rights reserved.