Sunday, May 12, 2019

True Grit (1968)

Now over 50 years old, this amazing novel probably deserves to be called a classic and even a masterpiece. I still remember it as new, in the wake of the 1969 movie adaptation with John Wayne and the Oscarsquake that followed. I never had anything to do with either movie until the Coen brothers' version came along in 2010. I liked the Coens movie very much the first time. Later I watched both back to back, the John Wayne for my first time, and then I liked the Coens version less, but still thought they made an interesting pair in terms of comparative strengths and weaknesses. Then I finally got around to reading the novel. Friends, don't make my mistake. Go and read this book immediately before you do anything else. That way you still have time to read it a few more times. I want to start it over again right now. It is more than twice as good as both movies combined. Charles Portis pulls off remarkable feats here without your ever noticing. He writes in the voice of an older woman who recalls scenes from when she was 14. Mattie Ross is a precociously mature 14-year-old, but even she cannot have the insights of the woman full grown who is the narrator. It is a tart judgmental voice. She is proudly Presbyterian, for example—specifically, a certain creed, which she explains and supports with Bible verse. She views some people as "trash." As she broods on her differences with others in various matters, she lays out their case, as at trial, and then follows with, "My answer is this." Her voice is the single best thing about this book, a lively instrument that is fierce, scorching hot, and often very funny. But there is more. The characters are rich and vividly felt: the drunken lawman Rooster Cogburn, the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, even many of the outlaws and incidental characters. No one is all-good, though a few may be all-bad. But they are unique and distinctive and feel intimately known. Even the horse Little Blackie. True Grit also somehow manages the air of a great tall tale of the American West, passed down for generations. Really, don't miss this one.

In case it's not at the library.

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