THE OUTSIDER by Penelope Williamson


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 Williamson's second hardcover (after Heart of the West, 1995) is a winner for lovers of western historical romance. This time, the author cuts through the excessive description that bogged down her previous novel and hits pay dirt with her love story of gunfighter Johnny Cain and Amish widow Rachel Yoder. Johnny Cain, critically wounded, stumbles across the wild hay meadow of Plain Rachel, a sheep rancher on the Montana frontier whose husband was hanged by vigilantes encouraged by a villainous cattle baron. Rachel and her stuttering son Benjo follow the Straight and Narrow way of the Amish. Johnny Cain, on the other hand, is a fancy-dressing shooter who is following the path to hell. Because Cain (never called John or Johnny) is thought to be close to death, Rachel gets to take him to her bed, and with the town's cynical doctor by her side, she gets to see him naked (``One of the doctor's pale eyebrows lifted and his mouth curled slightly. `There's nothing wrong in admiring God's handiwork, Plain Rachel' ''). Defying the brethren, Rachel keeps Cain on to help out while his wounds heal. Between scenes of growing sexual tension, Williamson gives the reader an absorbing and well-researched education in both 19th-century sheep ranching and the period's frontier brothels. As Rachel and Cain bond, Cain also helps Rachel's son learn some important young-boy lessons. The question is: How can Rachel reconcile her spiritual beliefs with the dictates of her heart? Given the nature of the genre, of course, Williamson could never allow her worthy heroine to spend a lifetime in a religious community that disapproved of oral sex. (``The horror . . .,'' observes an intruding neighbor, ``Dear God in heaven, he had been feeding on her.'') Williamson has a talent for live action and western melodrama. As romance readers say: a keeper.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-80759-9
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996


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