Bookshots: 'The Outcasts' by Kathleen Kent
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who Wrote It?
Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic’s Daughter and The Traitor’s Wife.
Plot in a Box:
A diverse array of outcasts collide in a small Texas town, on the hunt for a pirate’s buried treasure.
Invent a New Title For This Book:
We’re Not As Different As You Think
Read This If You Liked:
Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, Louis L’Amour
Meet the Book’s Leads:
Lucinda Goddard, an “upstairs girl” with epilepsy posing as a schoolteacher, and Officer Nate Cannon, a rookie tin star on his first field assignment.
Said Leads Would Be Portrayed In a Movie By:
Scarlett Johansson and Ethan Hawke, respectively
Setting: Would You Want to Live There?
Although Kent’s prose makes everything from a Texas sunset to a New Orleans bordello sound breathtakingly beautiful, there’s no denying that post-Civil War Texas was not a pleasant place to live.
What Was Your Favorite Sentence?
‘Oklahoma, I’m sure your wife is as faithful as the North Star. From what I’ve been told, you’re not much for farming, but you know horses better than most, and we fight for the same side. But I didn’t spend the past twenty years of my life learning to appreciate the merits of mankind. You’re young. You’ll learn.’ He fit his hat carefully back on his head and said, ‘Church is at nine.’
The story is a well-plotted Wild West adventure, told in alternating halves between two equally intriguing protagonists. They are presented with almost no backstory, leaving the reader to ponder who they are and how they might be connected, which is revealed at the perfectly enticing breadcrumb pace. Kent is a gifted linguist, ably acquitting herself in writing both the literary and the lurid. Her cast is very well-developed down to the most secondary expository character, and her descriptions, whether they be of flowers in a field or a bullet-shattered gut, are exceptionally vivid. She also wrote an extended metaphor scene for each protagonist that is just exceedingly well-crafted. And the implied title metaphor: Wow. That thing is nestled in here like one of those Russian dolls—the more you unpack it, the more you find.
Of course, there are a few flaws. The picture fizzles a little in the action scenes—while Kent excels at describing the horrible aftermath, when the violence is actually occurring it’s not always clear what’s happening. She also has a tendency to indulge in excessively eloquent passages detailing various landscapes of natural beauty, parts Elmore Leonard would point out as the ones readers tend to skip. Although she has no trouble setting a scene, at times her narrator has a tendency to go on, but it never lasts for long and doesn’t impede the flow of a well-told story. The Outcasts is one of those books that takes the tried and true tropes of the genre and adds just enough layers to make it literary without becoming pretentious. A worthwhile read.
To leave a comment