Wednesday, January 19, 2011
True Grit. Charles Portis. Bloomsbury. (1968)
A superbly written and griping Western adventure story. Frank Ross is killed by Tom Chaney and his fourteen year old daughter, Mattie comes to Fort Smith,Arkansas to recover his body and ensure that Tom Chaney is punished for his crime. Finding that the local law enforcement are not likely to take any action, Mattie hires Marshal Rooster Cogburn to track Chaney in the Indian Terrority he has fled to. A Texas Ranger, La Boeuf is pursuing Chaney also. Cogburn and La Boeuf are united in their determination to not include Mattie in the chase, Mattie is significantly more determined that she should. The pursuit is harsh and bloody, the action is superbly staged and the climax is outstanding.
The writing is breathtaking, Mattie is narrating the story as an elderly woman, she is brilliantly evoked both as her fourteen year old self and as a mature woman, you can feel her breath on the page. She is stubborn, hard headed and straightforward. The way the story is told allows the rest of the cast emerge with a startling clarity, even as they are being viewed through Mattie's eyes. She is unfazed by the events she is involved in, she has a duty to perform and a solid sense of what she wants which provides her with tremendous strength.
Rooster Cogburn is great Western character, he is not a hero while being heroic, he is a man you would want to have by your side in a tight spot. La Boeuf is a talker, fond of boasting about himself and his home state, in the end he is also brave and decisive. The dialogue is unexpectedly and entirely credibly formal and somewhat high flown, it captures the charachters of the cast with precision and clarity.
This is an astounding book and an unmitigated joy to read, not to be missed.