The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada's life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.
She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. The Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed.
On its premise it’s an exciting idea: a classic American tale with the script flipped starring a woman as the leading man ... There’s always a test involved when a stunt of this kind is pulled: will it hold up on its face as a compelling story? ... The results in North’s tale are varied and breathe new life into the Western format. Fans of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are in for a stellar ride where gender roles, sexuality, agency, and self discovery come together, making North’s story as experimental and novel as it is classic ... North renders a dazzling landscape, punctuated by a musicality that lulls you like a folk song ... there are moments of thrilling insight ... North’s rendering of race is less sure-footed ... Race, class, and gender are all on Ada’s mind, but the power structures where those things intersect occasionally get lost. This time the dry earth was hard fought by women, yes, and women trying to rewrite history on their terms. But the land was still claimed by Whiteness ... In the end, though, the novel is breathtaking in its recalibration of gender roles. The challenge is to imagine a world where categories, expectations, and conventions of American life collapse enough to birth real change.
Talking to friends this past week, I've described Anna North's new novel, Outlawed, as The Handmaid's Tale meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ... Outlawed, in this quick summary, can sound gimmicky, but there's much more going on in this smart adventure tale than just a sly upending of the traditional Western, rooted in macho individualism and violence. For all the ways North ingeniously stretches the limits of the genre, she's also clearly a fan ... Most of all, though, it's the affecting character of Ada who's the steady draw here ... For Ada and the other 'outlaws' of this spirited novel, the frontiers of gender and sexuality beckon to be explored.
...stirs up the western with a provocative blend of alt-history and feminist consciousness. The result is a thrilling tale eerily familiar but utterly transformed ... There’s nothing formulaic or dogmatic about North’s approach, but she has cleverly repurposed the worn elements of 19th-century mythology to explore the position of childless women. The shame and sorrow these young women suffer in the 1890s is not so different from what women trying to get pregnant — or end a pregnancy — endure in our own supposedly enlightened era ... In North’s galloping prose, it’s a fantastically cinematic adventure that turns the sexual politics of the Old West inside out. But if this is a legendary story, it’s a legend with its own idiosyncratic and highly satisfying ending.