May 5 2007
Dear Ms West,
I actually read this series a few years ago but with the Kentucky Derby coming up, I felt it was the perfect time to pull it out for a refresher. I’ve read tons of books set during the Civil War but precious few set during Reconstruction. This is about how the South began to rebuild after the war. It wasn’t easy or pretty. Lots of pride went into the war and just as much came out. Now people have to regroup and learn to move forward. Mix “Gone with the Wind,” “The Long Hot Summer” (the Woodward/Newman version, please) along with a little “Mississippi Burning” and you have “The Outcast.” Or parts of it.
The hero, Reeve Garrett, has always been on the outside looking in. He’s the bastard son of one of the county’s most powerful men and went against them all by enlisting in the Federal Army when the rest of the county pulled on Confederate Gray. Now he’s come back like a slap in the face and the county isn’t going to make it easy for him.
Especially Patrice Sinclair who’s loved him since she was a child but who agreed to marry his half brother after Reeve rode away. The one the whole county feels Reeve betrayed by allowing him to be shot as a Confederate spy by his Union troop. Patrice’s feelings about Reeve are tied in knots. If he had loved her, he wouldn’t have fought against the South. He would have tried to fight for her love and hand in marriage instead of just leaving. He would have had the tact and good sense to just keep riding after the War was over. But he didn’t and she has to start to face her life after the War and try to figure out how much she’ll sacrifice for love.
There are lots of books about love during the War or about those who fled west but this one is about trying to stay home and drag something out of the ash heap that was left after it ended. Life would never be the same and the values and beliefs that were expected before now had to be tempered by the stark reality of what was. I think you showed that very well. I like Patrice and Reeve and the fact that each has moments of weakness, pettiness, shame and pride just made them more real to me. Each grows even if sometimes they act more like guests on the Oprah or Phil Donahue shows. It’s amazing the insight they can reach before sinking into some misunderstandings.
I liked the secondary characters and had to laugh at the moment when Patrice realized that her mother wasn’t the vapid Southern lady she’d always thought her to be. There is a Yankee banker friend of Reeve’s who gets his own story and as does Patrice’s tormented, older brother Deacon. There were some inconsistencies with dialogue, a fairly predictable if exciting ending and small nitpicks that I won’t go into that lowered the grade a bit to a B but it’s a strong start for this series.