Lars Guthrie's Reviews > The Dog of the South

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis
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Jan 22, 11

Read in December, 2010

‘True Grit,’ 1968; ‘The Dog of the South,’ 1979. Why the eleven year gap? I think Charles Portis doesn’t like being famous.

And maybe he also feared getting out from under the weight of the astounding accomplishment of ‘True Grit.’ As it is, he can’t quite drop one of Mattie Ross’s singular mannerisms, the exclamatory sentence. It makes the voice of the first person narrator (another ‘True Grit’ trademark), the hapless Raymond Midge, echo the feisty and schoolmarmish Matty a bit.

‘What a sweet job!’

‘What a statement!’

‘What a story!’

The writing teachers who tell their students to avoid the exclamation point should be forced to read ‘True Grit.’ It works! And it sort of does in ‘The Dog of the South,’ just not quite as well. Portis more or less dropped it in his next two novels—another decade plus for those.

Portis returned to his modus operandi in ‘Dog.’ A rambling mission, in this case Midge’s retrieving his Little Rock wife who’s run off to Honduras—Central America is important to Portis—with a flimflam artist. Flimflam artists who’ve bamboozled themselves selling self-improvement schemes, UFO chasers, trailer park trash, whacky fraternal organizations with secret doctrines and handshakes, loopy men and women full of earnest chatter. Lots of unbelievably natural dialogue. The lore of an unusual corner of America spreading out from Arkansas into the neighboring states.

Portis ties these elements up in shaggy-dog narratives that are a treat to read, even if it is a shtick. In ‘True Grit,’ he managed to keep the best parts of that shtick, and then transcend it by shifting into history and transforming himself into Mattie Ross. The writing teachers who tell their students to write from their own experience about what they know should be forced to read ‘True Grit.’

Actually, everyone should read ‘True Grit.’

None of Portis’s other books measure up to that benchmark.

But they’re pretty darn good.

‘The Dog of the South’ may be the least successful representative of the Portis brand, but it, too, is pretty darn good. Distinctively eccentric literature for discerning oddballs.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by James (new) - added it

James Seawel Your comment referencing the "unusual corner of America" as I'm from Arkansas, and let me assure you that we are taught to think, no believe, that it's the rest of America that's unusual.

Ha. I enjoyed your review, though I haven't read the book. I believe you're right, Portis is known locally as shying away from fame and the limelight.


message 2: by James (new) - added it

James Seawel oops, i meant to put 'amuses me' between by words in quote and where i'm from. . . i must've thought my words so clever that i had to hit 'comment' ASAP.


Lars Guthrie James wrote: "Your comment referencing the 'unusual corner of America' (amuses me) as I'm from Arkansas, and let me assure you that we are taught to think, no believe, that it's the rest of America that's unusual.... I believe you're right, Portis is known locally as shying away from fame and the limelight."

I didn't mean 'unusual' in the sense of 'weird,' because we're all pretty wierd, just 'different' than the rest of the country. Portis is definitely a recluse, as illustrated in this ancillary-to-the-new-True Grit NY Times story: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/20/boo....

Here's some reminiscences by Portis an Arkansas boy might enjoy:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a....

I've now read all his novels and am working on getting something about each of them up on Goodreads.


message 4: by James (new) - added it

James Seawel I will certainly check out the links and I brought one to share: http://www.arktimes.com/RockCandy/arc... . By the way, no offense taken as I realize none was intended. Yes, we're all pretty weird, thank God. See ya soon.


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