Review of True Grit by Charles Portis
Overview from www.barnesandnoble.com: It tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash money. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father's blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.
First, I have to start off by apologizing to my regular readers for not posting a review on this past Saturday. The fact is that I was attending a writer’s conference in Washington, NC and was working at my day job quite a bit before that. I just didn’t have the time. Anyway, it was just as well since I also lacked the time to completely finish reading what is now this week’s book and therefore couldn’t have review it anyway.
Now on with the review. I had seen both versions of this book in movie form and had liked them but never, until now, had a read the book. I mention this to let my readers know that I was not ignorant of the story.
However I was ignorant of the voice of both the author and his chosen narrator, our protagonist, Mattie Ross. Miss Ross tells her story as an older and perhaps wiser woman. Her words reveal as much about who she really is (and was) as a person.
And what do we get from her telling of her efforts to track down the man who shot and killed her unarmed but well-meaning, if not interfering father? We, or at least I, find her to be courageous, determined, matter-of-fact, and no nonsense kind of women.
She believes more in the idea of an Old Testament eye-for-an-eye philosophy as well as revenge in her personal dealings with Tom Chaney yet she also expresses a belief in Calvinist theology if I am not misunderstanding her declaration on page 119. She says:
“That is all right but they are not sound on Election. They do not fully accept it. I confess it is a hard doctrine, running contrary to our earthly ideas of fair play, but I can see no way around it.”
The title True Grit seems to be as much a description of her as it is of Rooster Cogburn who she hires solely for his uncompromising meanness towards those who come up against the law.
Of course you do get a sense of that in the movie but I would say that it comes through more loudly and clearly in the novel. Mattie does very little to hid it with her style of telling the story exactly as she sees it and she frequently emphasizes her points with exclamation points. She is definitely not politically correct and that is one of the things that I love about her.
The story itself is also amazing as well as the other characters. LaBoeuf (pronounced LaBeef), the handsome Texas lawman, is as compelling of a character as he is initially much like Rooster Cogburn. But Cogburn seems more willing overlook some of his principals for money.
The most interesting thing about the story in the end is not the great adventure of the story itself but the bond that these three forge as a result of their shared experience. At the same time, if you want to enjoy this story as just another Action Adventure/Western I don’t think that Mattie Ross style or strong opinions get away with that in the slightest, even if she does overuse the exclamation points!