Goshdurnit, I c’n shure appreciate a well-written dialect as much as th’ next gal. But I ain’t got no stomach fer readin’ an entire book with a heroine who ain’t got no book learnin’ an’ speaks accordin’ly. And the heroine of McAllister’s Crossing doesn’t know any high fallutin’ words like “accordingly.”
Poor Callie Burgess has never learned to be a real lady. She doesn’t talk like one, dress like one, eat like one, sit like one, or think like one (running here and running there, dropping “H”s everywhere – or in her case “G”s). She joins up with a wagon train heading to Oregon because she wants to kill the wagon master, Lincoln McAllister. She thinks Lincoln is responsible for killing her dad, even though people have tried to explain why he’s innocent. But then, Callie’s not exactly an intellectual giant. Anyway, she signs up as the train’s scout, and she tells Linc that she intends to kill him, but she’ll wait until his wounded shoulder is healed.
Then she sees him. Gabriel, a minister who is in charge of the train, is the handsomest man she has ever laid eyes on. She decides to attract his notice, but her first attempt, which involves a low-cut red dress and a heavy-handed application of make-up, is a dismal failure. Her friend Pearl, a former prostitute, finds a refined woman to teach Callie the niceties of being a lady. Then she can attract Gabriel and be good enough for him (Wouldn’t it be loverly?). Unfortunately, Callie’s teacher leaves the train altogether after finding Callie in a tussle with Linc, so the well-meaning Pearl arranges for Linc to kidnap Callie and take her into the Black Hills so he can teach her himself without a nosy audience.
Linc is a gentleman from a prominent Creole family. You would never know it from his name, but that’s another matter. He works on Callie’s appalling table manners and then moves on to her hideous grammar and syntax. (The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain). He can barely tolerate her, because she is such an ignorant, low-born slob, but then he sees her naked and realizes there is a real woman under there. Still the course of true love does not run smooth, and Callie discovers a secret from his past in New Orleans and is furious (Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins!) But once they get to Oregon, things work themselves out. It all culminates in one of the most ridiculous, contrived courtroom scenes imaginable. But hey, everyone’s happy (For Pete’s Sake, get me to the church on time).
I am drawn to wagon train books like a moth to a flame, and unfortunately I get burned about a often as the proverbial moth. In this case, I really could have liked this book if it had been about different people, because the author does a pretty good job with the setting. Actually, if Pearl (Callie’s prostitute friend) had been the heroine the whole book would have been much more interesting. Pearl ends up having a little side romance with Gabriel, the preacher that Callie has a crush on. Their relationship had a lot of potential, but you don’t see it much.
Unfortunately, we are stuck reading about Callie and Linc, and I disliked both of them. It’s always harder for me to identify with the “uneducated heroine with a heart of gold” type, and Callie isn’t just ignorant, she’s also stupid. Her annoying “aw shucks” dialect was off-putting on its own (I kept wondering how the author had managed to type a whole book full of it without gagging), but she also lacks fundamental common sense. When she goes to a dance dressed as a prostitute, she also rubs her breasts against all the men she dances with, because Pearl tells her it’s a good idea. Callie has no clue that her dress and behavior are any different from the other ladies of the train, who are right there dancing (like ladies instead of prostitutes).
Linc is similarly disturbing. Maybe some women find a condescending hero who lowers himself to teach the heroine table manners and book learnin’ romantic, but to me the whole scenario just harkens back to a earlier time, and not in a good way. Linc makes no secret of his disgust for Callie and her ignorant ways, and when he promises to teach her how to behave he feels like he is doing her a real favor. I never could understand why they were supposed to be in love. “Wow! She’s stupid, but she looks so good naked” just doesn’t say romance to me. If you are going to tackle issues like class and educational differences, you really need to go about it in a thoughtful way. This book doesn’t.
If you can’t resist a Pygmalion story in any form, you might want to check this one out. But dontcha go a-sayin’ I didn’t try ta warn ya.