Jessica Hammer's Reviews > True Grit

True Grit by Charles Portis
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Jan 08, 12

bookshelves: digital, fiction
Read in January, 2012

For the past few years, I've re-read Lord of the Rings at the start of every year. This year, I decided, it was time to do something different. But what to read? Lord of the Rings had a lot of history to it, plus it's always been one of my favorite books. Anything I chose had to meet that standard.

True Grit turned out to be a surprisingly good beginning-of-year choice. I liked it a lot - enough that I read the whole thing in one sitting, while toasting my toes in front of a crackling fire. On the other hand, I didn't like it so much that I'll be tempted to re-read it next January. So, perfect!

You may already know what the story is about, since the Coens recently remade the movie (which I now really want to see!). For those who don't, a young girl sets out to avenge her father's death, in company with an aging, hard-drinking US Marshal and a Texas Ranger with his own agenda. The book is told in her voice, or more accurately in retrospect by her older self. That voice was one of my two favorite things about the book. Mattie is an unusual character - driven, intelligent, stubborn, humorless, and yet somehow funny and sympathetic as hell. Even older Mattie often doesn't seem to get the joke, but often that's exactly what makes the scene funny where a heavier hand would have weighed it down. My other favorite thing was how Portis evoked the period, using everything from Mattie's word choice to what they eat on the trail. Again, narrator-Mattie (as opposed to protagonist-Mattie) often casts the historical elements into sharp relief, as within her lifetime she'd see major social and technological change.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is that Portis manages his world-building and narrator without distracting the reader from the plot, which starts at a solid trot and ends at a gallop. That's craft, and that's what I'll be reading for when I re-read this book. It just won't be next January!
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