The Outlaw's Woman
by Tanya Hanson, historical (2002)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5106-0

This book was a finalist in some sort of award, Best New Historical Voice from Dorchester. If I'm nasty, I'd say that's like qualifying for the finals in the American Idol thing. Because we know Paula and Randy, true masters in judging music, love everybody, everybody's a winner, blah blah blah. But since I'm a kind, generous, and lovely woman just like darling Miss Abdul, I'll just say that successful overuse of clichés must have constituted a big chunk of the judging criteria.

Because that's what The Outlaw's Woman: a big collection of clichés.

Dena Clayter's late husband was impotent (Paula Abdul: "Wonderful!") and abusive (Abdul: "You're a winner if you believe in yourself!"). After that man's funeral, she finds a wounded guy in her kitchen. Bedside nursing, a compulsory rite all Western heroines must go through (Paula Abdul: "Splendid!"), follow. He's an outlaw ("Gorgeous!"), a misunderstood one ("Great job!") and a snowstorm will later reunite them and force them to spend time together in the house ("I like it!"). Love at first sight plays its tantara, and our lovebirds see beating hearts in their eyes, but wait, our hero "Thomas Howard" has a secret. Never mind. Overcome by love, they make love, where Dena experiences her first "Oh my God!" at the, er, hands of a wounded, dirty, smelly, stinking outlaw.

I'm so touched.

They then go their separate ways once more, as our hero has to do his thing, but he promises to return. But look, Dena's pregnant! ("Good job!")

Mind you, at this point, I'm still okay with this story. It's very familiar, but Dena still has a good head on her shoulders and she's a pretty smart one. "Thomas" is an okay guy, tortured, pained, torn, the usual Western hero, but he's okay.

Then comes the bizarre Native American affirmative action diatribe. Then comes the Big Misunderstanding ("I believed in myself and now I judge American Idol, a true honor indeed!") that makes null and void all the brainpower the characters display earlier. These two missteps bring out the worst in this author's characterization and plotting, and whatever good she did in her earlier characterization is effectively killed by transparently inserted plot contrivances.

I don't think even Paula Abdul will approve.

By the last page, I'm pretty annoyed at the way the whole story panned out. I do like these characters in the beginning, but by the end I'm convinced they're all twits. Ms Hanson can create some smart, romantic characters, I think, judging from this book, but she needs to lay off those forced conflicts and leave them in the closet with those Paula Abdul CDs where they belong.

Maybe next time.

Rating: 61

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