Bookworm: Western ‘Outlawed’ comes out bucking

Dog tale ‘Particulars of Peter’ will provide a laugh

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
“Outlawed” author Anna North.

“Outlawed”

  • By Anna North
  • c.2021, Bloomsbury
  • $26, $34.99 Canada; 272 pages

You try and you try, and you try. Everybody else makes things look easy. They seem to do everything effortlessly, leaving you to keep trying, twisting, seeing if this will work, or that until eventually, despite that it’s your hearts’ desire, you give up. What’s the use? That’s when, as in the new novel “Outlawed” by Anna North, you run.

“Outlawed” by Anna North.

Ever since boys and girls were split in Ninth Form in school, every girl in the Independent Town of Fairchild was eager to marry. Seventeen-year-old Ada was no exception: for years, she’d snickered with her friends about lying with their husbands to bear children for the baby Jesus, and she wasn’t worried about any of it. Her mother was the midwife of Fairchild, and Ada was learning all about birthing children.

She already knew that babies came naturally when you lay together often, and Ada and her husband were eager for one another. But as weeks turned to months and there was no pregnancy, people began to whisper. Only a witch would embarrass her husband. Witches were barren. Witches cursed other women’s babies!

For her safety, Ada’s mother sent Ada to a convent. Filled with other girls who were barren and were likewise accused of witchcraft, The Sisters of the Holy Child was indeed a sanctuary, but Ada hated it there. She missed school, home, her mother, her sisters, and she’d be strung up and left for dead if she left the convent – unless she left with help ...

The traveling bookseller was supposed to deliver Ada to the Hole in the Wall canyon, but he instead made her walk part-way. The people she found in the canyon wanted to cast her back into the night, but they knew as well as Ada did that, she had no more options. Her knowledge of medicine was what saved her.

And so, in the spring of “the year of our Lord 1894,” Ada “became an outlaw.”

Whoa. Right from the chute and into a new year, “Outlawed” comes out bucking.

And yet, this isn’t your grandpa’s Western. Yes, there’s gun slinging, hosses, banks to rob, and a no-good Sheriff. But then no, this novel is as if The Handmaiden’s Tale had a baby with the real Butch Cassidy. Set in 1894, it’s futuristic-ish; dystopian in a feminist way, but with tiny romantic overtones. It’s rough, and soft. Profanely sweet with wide-eyed openness, and an exciting culmination that ricochets off the bulk of the tale.

Author Anna North gives her readers all that and more, wrapped up tight in an observant, resourceful heroine who knows how to save her own hide. Again, however, beware: whether she’s breaking through brush, breaking into a run, or breaking with normal, Ada’s not your grandfather’s Little Missy.

That is to say that this book is excellent, but it’s not one you’ll L’amour if you like the conventional. If you’re looking for something unique to devour with your Holiday leftovers, though, this is your book. Start “Outlawed” and just try to put it down.

“The Particulars of Peter”

  • By Kelly Conaboy
  • c. 2020, Grand Central
  • $27, $34 Canada; 256 pages

Your dog does not need a new laptop. He has no use for a tablet or a new mouse, unless it’s squeaky. He doesn’t want the latest smartphone, either, but now, dancing classes and sports lessons? Yeah, you’ll have to ask what he thinks about them. As in “The Particulars of Peter” by Kelly Conaboy, those extras might make him happy.

“The Particulars of Peter” author Kelly Conaboy.

While job loss sometimes causes angst for the newly-unemployed, Kelly Conaboy saw it as a chance for some “space.” It gave her the opportunity to explore her Brooklyn neighborhood more, and to volunteer with a local animal shelter and a New York rescue group. Walking and playing with homeless dogs seemed like a good deed and she thought fostering a dog might be fun. Adopting one was a distant idea.

And so, of course, she adopted a dog.

It almost didn’t happen; she was told that if she fostered, she couldn’t adopt but she was so over-the-moon in love with a little black dog named Peter Parker that the shelter bent the rules. Secretly, really, she felt like he was hers before it was official, and Peter became the center and reason for Conaboy’s life. She needed to know what made him happy.

Peter, she thought, might first enjoy Woofstock, a dog festival in Toronto, Canada. It was not what Conaboy expected; Peter loved the festival’s off-leash park best. She wondered then if he might like participating in agility, which Peter excelled at but Conaboy couldn’t seem to get the hang of it.

“The Particulars of Peter” by Kelly Conaboy.

She bought Peter all sorts of gifts – mostly things he didn’t want or need, such as a $60 hand-knit sweater that he hated – and she learned to use a remote camera to check in on him very, very often. She asked around to find out if it was safe for him to sleep in her bed (as if she wasn’t going to let him!) And even though he’ll never become a dancer, she says, “I still love his sunny, funny face.”

As a dog devotee, you’ll agree that having a pup in your life is a lot of fun. And really, you can’t imagine life without your Puppers. He makes you soft, he makes you smile, he makes you laugh – and so will “The Particulars of Peter.”

With the kind of gut-deep devotion that you expect, canine-to-human, author Kelly Conaboy flips the script as she writes lovingly about her boy and her need to know everything about him. She tries all kinds of doggish things to do that: clothing, activities, psychics, and toys to see if they could possibly produce Dog Nirvana, proving that Peter is patient and Conaboy is willing to be profanely, but perfectly, endearingly silly. Indeed, this slice-of-life tail tale has all the earnestness of a new, clumsy, adorable puppy, minus the floppy ears.

That should hold the same appeal to you, Dog Lover, as a squeaky ball does to a Toy Hound. “The Particulars of Peter” will make you yip with pleasure; missing it just doesn’t compute.

Read more

If you love dogs, you know you want these new books: “Dog’s Best Friend” by Simon Garfield takes a personal, charming look at our relationship with dogs throughout history; and “Poppy in the Wild” by Teresa J. Rhyne is the story of a dog lost in the wilderness and the unrelentless drive to find her and bring her home.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.