"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Monday, March 19, 2018

Audiobook Review: True Grit by Charles Portis

Original 1968 Simon Schuster hardback cover
True Grit by Charles Portis was published in 1968 and became an instant classic. It was memorialized the very next year when it was made into a film starring John Wayne hit the big screen. High school classes started reading and analyzing it, which probably means that some people would think of it negatively, but that means that teachers recognized its brilliance. One reviewer, Donna Tartt, called True Grit an "American masterpiece" and compared it to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What is more American than a good Old West story which has plenty of adventures, memorable characters, and wild open spaces?

The book begins with these memorable opening lines,
“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.” 
And so the reader meets Mattie Ross, a plucky girl, brave and strong beyond her fourteen years, who intends to hunt down and bring her father's murderer to justice. She engages the services of a an old, cone-eyed US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, to help her accomplish this feat. Ross recounts her harrowing tale in retrospect, nearly fifty years after the events that so drastically altered her life, when she is a cranky old spinster.

Charles McGrath, writing for the New York Times, had a lot to say about True Grit's humor. At first glance the book doesn't seem to be that funny. Surely the topic isn't a funny one. McGrath refers to the humor of True Grit as "deadpan", written as if serious but containing a truly bizarre set of characters who all do and say oddly funny things.
"Mr. Portis evokes an eccentric, absurd world with a completely straight face. As a result there are not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments or explosive set pieces here. Instead of shooting off fireworks the books shimmer with a continuous comic glow."
Perhaps the humor is what sets True Grit apart, but I think it is the language that makes it really special. Mattie Ross as narrator is so authentic and unique. Her voice makes the book something really different. McGrath calls her narrative voice "a feat of historical ventriloquism." Truly Portis captured the language and tone of what I think people used to talk like in the 1800, much more formal and stiff. It was this use of language that really sold me on the book and elevated it, in my mind, to one of my top 50 books, one that readers, especially American readers, shouldn't miss.
"Mattie is lovable in her way, and though grit is what she admires in Rooster, she is hardly lacking in that department herself. But she is also humorless, righteous and utterly without either self-doubt or self-consciousness. She has no idea how she or her words come across on the page, nor would she care if she did" (McGrath).
As a Presbyterian myself, I couldn't help laughing at her references to her faith and her church (Presbyterian) especially when she quotes scripture or comes across as very pious, “ 'I will go further and say all cats are wicked, though often useful. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces? Some preachers will say, well, that is superstitious ‘claptrap.’ My answer is this: Preacher, go to your Bible and read Luke 8: 26-33.'” 

My husband and I listened to the audiobook version of True Grit read by Donna Tartt. Tartt, a Southerner, is a true fan of True Grit and loves it for its uniquely American voice, too. She did a masterful job with the narration and I highly recommend this format to you.

Sometimes, not often, a book comes along which instantly becomes a classic, a new favorite, and a must-read. This is one of those books. Though it was written fifty years ago, it still deserves it place on our nightstands. Go to your library right now and request a copy. You will not be disappointed.

btw- Everything I read said that John Wayne's motion picture adaptation of "True Grit" isn't as good as the Coen Brothers 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross. Of course, read the book before you see the film.




6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Exactly, I don't know if most people know about it. I want to shout from the mountains tops..."READ THIS BOOK!"

      Delete
  2. Great review, it would never have occurred to me to read True Grit since I thought of it as a John Wayne western!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Woah, I had no idea that the 2010 movie was based on a ook or a remake tbh. What an intense book this is!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great review! I definitely need to try the book. I preferred the 2010 remake movie to the John Wayne film. :)

    Lauren @ Always Me

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm someone else who didn't know this was a book! I'm not sure I'd get the references to her faith as much, especially specific bible verses, but it does sound like a fun read.

    ReplyDelete

Your turn. Please comment below.