"Outlaw Hearts" Miniseries

The Outlaw's Wife by Cindy Gerard
(Silh. Desire #1175, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76175-9

Hang on, let me say that again. Wow. I have never read a romance novel like this one. To be honest, I haven't read many novels in any genre that have managed to capture such a real, right-on, compelling portrayal of what a relationship a marriage can be.

The Outlaw's Wife is so complex that it's difficult to summarize without giving away the intricate layers that Cindy Gerard slowly, skillfully uncovers throughout the book. It's the story of two people who have been married for ten years, and who have been in love longer than that. It's a story about what can happen when two young, inexperienced kids find a powerful love that they don't quite know how to handle.

Garrett James and Emma DuPree James were high school sweethearts. Now, after ten years of marriage, they still love each other to distraction, but their relationship has evolved in some unhealthy ways. Secret doubts, deep fears, and old problems lie silent between them, unspoken and festering. They can't communicate don't even know how to begin to break the old patterns and find a new way to bridge the gap that's grown between them. And then you have your misunderstandings.

Now, don't recoil in distaste. I'm not talking about the dreaded BIG Misunderstanding. What I'm talking about what Gerard has written about are the assumptions people can make when jumping to conclusions feels easier than dealing with the painful turmoil that lies behind those assumptions.

To try to put that more clearly, let's start with the barest bones of the plot. Near the beginning of the novel, Emma comes to believe that Garrett has cheated on her. In a very dramatic way, she leaves him. Garrett, falsely accused, bewildered, and heartbroken, tucks away his pride and pursues her. Emma, miserable and betrayed, shuts him out both physically and emotionally. In desperation, Garrett decides to kidnap his own wife, simply to give them some time together away from work, friends, and family to work out their problems. He's envisioning a week of reconciliation he'll convince Emma that her accusations were ill-founded, he'll do a little romancing to rekindle the old flame, and all will be just as it was. The poor thing. He has no idea what's in store for him.

As it turns out, the supposed adultery means very little in and of itself. It's an indicator, a symptom of the deeper problems in this relationship. And let me tell you, as each interlocking layer of this relationship was unearthed, I was stunned, enthralled, completely blown away. It was so true, and it aligned so perfectly with everything I've ever experienced or learned about human nature and human relationships that I was amazed.

This is no light, throwaway read, but neither is it depressing and dark. Yes, I felt my heart wrench with the honest pain of these two people, so in love and yet so completely lost. But by the end of the book, I felt so gratified, so fulfilled, so uplifted that it was all, all worth it.

Unlike many romances, this is not a story of the beginning of a relationship. Perhaps it's about an old relationship with a new beginning, but it seems more to me like a story of the middle of a relationship. It's an acknowledgement that the path of love does not unfurl without a wrinkle once the wedding vows are said. It's about what has to happen when love even strong, powerful love isn't enough to cure all the things that can go wrong in a relationship. We're human even when we love, we screw up. And for me, Garrett and Emma were definitely human.

The content of this book is so compelling that I almost forgot to notice the mechanics of it almost. After all, it's hard to ignore Gerard's way with words, her vivid, poetic descriptions, and her straightforward narrative style that communicates all this complex emotion with such clarity. Add in a good dose of heart-healing tenderness, some gentle humor, and effective sexual tension, and you've got a hands-down winner.

Go and get this book. It will take you on such a real, rich, emotionally intense ride that you may need a few days to recover, but you won't mind a bit.

P.S. Almost forgot to mention the best part this book is the first is a series of three, Gerard's "Outlaw Hearts" miniseries. Marriage, Outlaw Style will be out in December of 1998, and The Outlaw Jesse James will appear in February 1999. After meeting the heroes of those two books in this one, I'll be waiting anxiously.

-- Ellen Hestand

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