Tony's Reviews > True Grit

True Grit by Charles Portis
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's review
Nov 01, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: adapted-for-film, novels, teen, old-west
Read in January, 2010

I'm not sure what more I can say than, "Wow!" I don't know if I've ever been more surprised by a book. I run across it a few times in the library and thought about checking it out, but then I kept remembering that John Wayne won his only Oscar in the movie version (which I haven't seen), and I don't really care for John Wayne, so that must have subconsciously led me to keep leaving it on the shelf. But, I finally picked it up, took it home, dipped into it -- and was instantly hooked. This is a gripping book about the single-minded pursuit justice in the 1870s, written in the amazing voice of a deadpan, plain-speaking prose of a woman looking back at the events some 30-40 years later.

Mattie Ross's beloved rancher father was murdered by a drunk hired hand while they were away on business, and Mattie's ineffectual mother sends her to town to collect the body. She does so, but also seeks out a U.S. Marshall whom she can tempt into heading into the Indian Territory of modern-day Oklahoma to track down and kill or capture the murderer. The crusty lawman she eventually hires has his flaws, including a taste for the drink and sordid service in the Civil War with Quantrill's Raiders (or one of the other loose raiding companies). But he also has a code he follows which makes him the right match for Mattie, who sees life in black and white absolutes. They are joined by a Texas lawman pursing the man for another crime (and substantial bounty) and the trio head off to find their man. Adventures and surprises ensue, including plenty of shooting and killing -- all recounted in the sparse and often unintentionally funny voice of the elder Mattie. Her voice is singular and riveting, making Mattie instantly into one of my favorite characters in American literature. The book is a true masterpiece, one that has something powerful to say about the price and value of justice. It's worth reading by pretty much anyone age 12 and above, and I could see it having real appeal to young girls.
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