Charles Portis – “True Grit” [review]

A Western of which I knew absolutely nothing before I picked it up (via Humble Bundle). But I’m glad it was in my audiobook bundle, because it was a joy to listen to – even though I’m happy I didn’t need to do any audiobook narrating of my own, since I picked up a Southern accent because of it.

Mattie Ross is a 14 year-old girl whose father was killed in another town by a drunkard who stole his horse, $150 and 2 gold coins. Her mother isn’t very down-to-earth and there isn’t anyone else to take care of her business, so she goes to recover her father’s body and set his affairs in order.

The story is told by a much older Mattie, which is clear mostly in the puritanical, older tone of her occasional musings, and in her comments on journalists who would later try to get her story, but wouldn’t get it right. Her 14 year-old self is a clever, determined, no-nonsense girl who knows what she wants, knows how people function and who’s very willing to do whatever it takes to reach her goal.

The dialogue she has concerning the marshal who could track down her father’s killer sets the tone of the action pretty neatly:

“Who is the best marshal they have?’

The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, ‘I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don’t enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have.’

I said, ‘Where can I find this Rooster?”

The style is lovely, the action is fun to read and there’s something almost epic about the story. It’s funny in places, but it has an air of serious drama as well, keeping a careful balance between. The dialogues are a huge part of the charm.

Really recommended.

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