Tuesday, May 29, 2012

True Grit by Charles Portis

Charles Portis has been acclaimed as one of America’s foremost comic writers. True Grit is his most famous novel. First published in 1968, and the basis for the movie of the same name starring John Wayne (for which he won his only Academy Award), it tells the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl from Dardanelle, Arkansas, who sets out in the winter of eighteen seventy-something to avenge the murder of her father. Since not even Mattie (who is no self-doubter) would ride into Indian Territory alone, she "convinces" one-eyed "Rooster" Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshall, to tag along with her. As Mattie outdickers and outmaneuvers the hard-bitten types in her path, as her performance under fire makes them eat their words, her indestructible vitality and harsh innocence by turns amuse, horrify and touch the reader. What happens — to Mattie, to the gang of outlaws unfortunate enough to tangle with her — rings with the dramatic rightness of legend and the marvelous overtones, the continual surprises, of personality. True Grit is eccentric, cool, straight and unflinching, like Mattie herself, who tells the story a half-century later in a voice that sounds strong and sure enough to outlast us all.

My take: 4 looks
I am amazed at how close (at least the first) movie is to the book. I could almost follow along in the book while watching. Maybe this was because an actor, Hume Cronyn, wrote the screenplay. In any case, only the ending is a bit different.

The telling of the story by a woman who is recalling her 14th year makes for a good story. There is some reflection but not much, and there is not much internal monologue. With that said, this book is driven by dialogue. Witty, clever, revealing and character-building dialogue. There are one-liners here that would work on a comedy stage in current time, but at the same time reflecting the old west as it was: harsh, cruel and providing little time for emotional softness.

The story is a good one, but one that probably would not have read if it were not for the movie. However, I will read more by Portis.

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