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True Grit

A book by Charles Portis

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Hardboiled Western

  • Dec 4, 2010
I read True Grit, Charles Portis's short novel that provided the basis for the John Wayne/Glenn Campbell movie in 1969, in preparation for the soon to be released Coen Brothers remake.   I can't remember if I saw the original, but I am definitely looking forward to the latest from the Brothers, as I have seen and reviewed all their movies in the last year.

If the book is any measure of the movies, they must be classics.  :Portis writes in a spare matter-of-fact style as hard-boiled as any mystery writer, and sparked with the same gritty feeling and dry humor.  His hero is Mattie Ross, who tells the story in first person, and her spare language of guarded emotion tells us more about her than pages of florid description and omniscient thought ever could.   

Mattie's father has been killed by a farm hand while away from home buying a string of ponies, and the story recounts her effort to find his killer and bring him to justice.  She ends up hiring, and mostly leading with her relentless integrity and intelligence, a pair of misfits:  Rooster Cogburn (played by Wayne in the original), a one-eyed marshall whose gruff demeanor and broken down body hides a past of uncertain legality, and LaBouef (played by Glenn Campbell), an eccentric Texas Ranger tracking the same man Mattie wants but for a different reason.  

Like Mattie, the story moves in a straight line, quickly, without hesitation or false steps.  Its 220 pages in the original 1968 hardback can be read in one or two sittings, and I found myself drawn to keep going in Mattie's footsteps to see the end.

As right as True Grit reads and feels now, it is interesting to reflect how it must have been received and perceived in 1968.  The world then was both exploding and imploding with new music, new mores, and persistent violence at home--street crime, racial violence, and political demonstrations--and pernicious war abroad, and yet trying to conserve old ways and old thinking.  True Grit walks a fine line between reverence for the old and an irreverent embracing of the new--whatever that meant then.  Today, it just reads like the perfect story of "a woman with brains and a frank tongue," as Mattie describes herself at the end.

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December 09, 2010
I love a strong female lead character and I really am interested in seeing what newcomer Hailee Steinfeld brings to the role. I'm looking forward to catching this flick when it comes out. After reading your review- I might have to read the book first! Thanks for sharing :)
More True Grit reviews
review by . April 19, 2012
A Western novel written in the form of a first-person account from a grown-up Mattie Ross, TRUE GRIT is kind of a 19th century version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but instead of Atticus Finch there's Rooster Cogburn and instead of Bob Ewell there's Tom Chaney. Speaking from the present of 1928, Mattie recalls the story of an adventure she took in 1875 when she was only fourteen. Her beloved father was murdered senselessly at the hands of a drifter and former ranch hand named Tom Chaney. Mattie …
review by . January 28, 2011
Having seen both the old and new movie versions of "True Grit" I decided to read the book and see how faithful each was to the original work. Surprisingly, I found that each in its own way followed the book, although there were subtle differences, especially the endings.      That being said, I must confess to have enjoyed this book tremendously. The writing was excellent (the language especially), and the plot kept the reader moving along. The device of using the grown-up …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #37
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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True Grit by Charles Portis first appeared as a 1968 serial in The Saturday Evening Post. Portis subsequently re-issued it in book form with a somewhat changed storyline. In 1969, True Grit was adapted for the screen as an American Western film starring John Wayne, which spawned a sequel in 1975 entitled Rooster Cogburn. Another adaptation, also called True Grit, was made in 2010 by the Coen Brothers, starring Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn.

"Tom Wolfe, who worked with Portis as a reporter at theNew York Herald-Tribunein the early 1960s called him 'the original laconic cutup.' A generation of novelists since then have simply regarded him as a writers' writer and have made his name a sort of secret password. Soon, they'll no longer have him to themselves." --Rolling StoneMagazine

"An epic and a legend."--The Washington Post

"Like Mark Twain'sHuckleberry Finnand Thomas Berger'sLittle Big Man, Charles Portis'sTrue Gritcaptures the naïve elegance of the American voice."--Jonathan Lethem

"An instant classic... Read it and have the most fun you've had reading a novel in years, maybe decades."--Newsday

"Skillfully constructed, a comic tour de force."--The New York Times Book Review

"Charles Portis details the savagery of the 1870s frontier through an astonishing narrative voice: that of the 14-year-old Mattie Ross, a flinty, skeptical, ...
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ISBN-10: 159020459X
ISBN-13: 978-1590204597
Author: Charles Portis
Genre: Western
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: 1968
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