In the preface, Linda says that she wanted to write “a simple love story about a half-breed Wyoming rancher and an old-maid schoolteacher.” A lot of girls-with-glasses stories start with an old maid. But in the good versions, the girl turns out to be far from meek and mild: she wields her glasses as a weapon to get exactly what she wants in a world that tends to consign pretty girls to a career as a wife.
MacKenzie’s Mountain opens with the immortal words, “He needed a woman. Bad.” That’s not only a fragment, but ungrammatical as well, but Wolf Mackenzie would never say, “He needed a woman. Badly.” Howard delights in her rough-hewn, uncivilized hero: imagine a ruthless outcast who’s seen the inside of a prison due to an unfair rape charge: “In his veins ran the blood of two of the most warlike peoples in the history of the world, Comanche and Celt.” So what do you think the good people of Ruth, Wyoming would think of a school mistress who beds their most-loathed outcast?
Mary Elizabeth Potter doesn’t care. She heads up the mountain to confront Wolf about the fact that his son Joe dropped out of school a few months ago and falls directly into lust. At first, she thinks Wolf is making fun of her, so she sets him straight: “I know I’m not an attractive woman, certainly not the type to stir a man’s—er, savage appetites.” Well, you can see where this is going.
But Mary is tough. She’s just as tough as Wolf, and in some ways, even stronger. She confronts small town prejudices about race with a kind of guts and glory that puts her in danger, but also slashes through the hatred and intolerance that made Wolf and his son outcasts.
That’s all great, but at the heart, this is a really terrific romance between a man with a crazy amount of testosterone…and a girl who wears glasses.