The Plain People are a religious group, similar to the Amish or the Mennonites. A member of their sect, “Plain” Rachel Yoder, lives peacefully on her Montana ranch, tending to her sheep and enjoying her “straight and narrow” way of life. She is not truly happy, though, and every time she looks at her ten-year-old son, Benjo, she sees the eyes and smile of her dearly departed husband. Sometimes wistful, sometimes lonely, and sometimes sad, Rachel makes the best of her days, trusting in God – until a stranger stumbles across her wheat field and into her life. By opening up her house to this Outsider – someone not Plain – who needs her help, kind Rachel actually opens her heart and soul to love again.
The Outsider is a delightful book, especially if you enjoy a heartfelt romance wrapped up inside a well-developed story. Set in Montana around the turn-of-the-century, this book consists of strong secondary characters, a tortured hero, a unique heroine, conflict, and love. The book is long, yet the author never lost my interest. Williamson is not afraid to take time to weave a believable story by delving into the minds of her characters – their personalities, pasts, dreams, and fears. Slowly, we learn about the trials and triumphs of Rachel’s Plain life. Slowly, we learn, along with Rachel, the hidden secrets of Johnny Cain’s “outsider” life, as she nurses him in recovering from a debilitating gunshot wound. Williamson completely captures the emotions and actions of her characters so they seem like friends you have always known. Rachel and Johnny are not modern, stereotypical personalities pushed into the past. They are real, honest-to-goodness people who worked, loved, and died during American history.
Williamson depicts this tiny Montana community as strict, yet close-knit. However, the Plain beliefs do not constrain the story. Rather, they provide a rich background for Rachel and Johnny’s love, very realistic and enveloping. Conflict forms a large part of the story, and the author utilizes a classic western theme of villainous cattle baron against peaceful sheep ranchers . The cattle baron resorts to trickery and violence, forcing the Plain people to defend their rights or perish. Johnny Cain, sharp-shooter, finds himself personally involved in their plight, first to protect Rachel, later to save the entire community. After killing so many people, Johnny has closed his heart to caring. Rachel sees his tortured soul the first time she looks into his eyes. She believes faith will save him. He believes faith prevents her from living her life fully.
Eventually, the couple cannot deny the mutual attraction and love between them. Set within the rich texture of the story, their passion seems quite natural. Rachel’s inner turmoil is very apparent as she seeks to reconcile her faith with her longings. She truly grows, both in her personal values and in her love for Johnny. Each scene between Johnny & Rachel brims with passion and desire. Each touch becomes a caress, each glance becomes a promise, each moment . . . an eternity. Sensual, but not graphic, the love scenes between the couple are a product of Williamson’s warm diction and sensitive descriptions. The author conveys a feeling of compassionate seduction between Rachel and Johnny that permeates every moment they share.
The Outsider is rich with secondary characters who Williamson develops right along with the hero and heroine. These characters are not mere foils for the main characters, but they add depth and texture to the story. A superb storyteller, Williamson entwines all the pieces and parts of this story into one colorful novel. A truly 3-dimensional story, the characters are not sitting on top of the historical setting. Instead, they are living their lives, interacting with each other, and engaging the reader. The Outsider is a story of family, faith, love, and learning. This is not a book you will easily forget.