True Grit by Charles Portis

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Title: True Grit
Author: Charles Portis
Genre: Western
Publisher: Overlook Press, 2002
Source: So I bought it for my dad for his birthday. Then he read it, loved it, and returned it to me so I could read it. I swear that was not my motive
Read for: Fun

So, once there was this spunky girl named Mattie Ross whose father was killed by a man that he had helped quite a bit (which, by the way, would land him in the very deepest circle of hell, according to Dante). Determined to see justice delivered, Mattie heads to the scene of the crime, takes care of her father's business, and hires Marshall Rooster Cogburn to take her father's killer down (choosing Cogburn because he had "true grit" and was the meanest marshall of them all). Determined to see that the job is done correctly, Mattie joins the somewhat unwilling Marshall and a Lone Ranger also determined to bring Tom Chaney to justice.

Even if this book had no other merits, Mattie Ross would carry it. She is the real character with "true grit;" she will never relent until her father's death is avenged. Brutally honest, indomitably determined, and yet completely practical, her insistence on finding Tom Chaney and having him imprisoned and killed on her terms is heartbreaking, but becomes impressive as she begins to put her plans into action and have success. The novel was told in her voice, and I loved being inside her Bible-quoting, inflexible, tough head. I am amazed at Portis' ability to write a compelling female character so very believably.

The story itself is also quite exciting. If you have seen the movie, it is one of the closest plot followings I have ever seen -- hardly anything was left out. And it is action packed. We are talking severed appendages, burning buildings, raided trains, and rattlesnake pits. The book is short and it makes every page count.

Honestly, while I enjoyed this book, I don't have much to say for it -- it is so succinct and well done that attempting to reconstruct it in words feels like a useless exercise. If you enjoy westerns and literary writing, you've probably already read it. If you don't enjoy westerns but do enjoy a great story, give this one a chance. It'll be even better than playing cowboy games was when you were a kid.

4 stars

Warnings: Violence. You know, severed appendages, burning buildings, rattlesnake pits, the works.


  1. I read this and didn't care too much for it at the time. However, the more I've thought on it since that time, the more I realize that I really did like it -- I just don't care to read westerns. I love watching westerns so much...I just realized that I don't love to read them.

    That being said, the snakepit nearly 'did me in' as I have a very real (not a girly, whiny, typical) fear of snakes. I actually was having anxiety reading that part!

    I'm glad I read it, especially since my entire family is such a fan of the original Rooster Cogburn from the classic movie. I loved reading the lines that my father-in-law quotes ALL THE TIME. Since I've 'been there, done that' with reading it, I probably won't re-read it. But I'm really glad that I did. :)

    And I agree with your assessment of the book-to-movie adaptation. AND the cast was wonderful...

  2. Asheley - I haven't really read any other westerns, but I want to try a Louis L'amour, just because I feel like it is my duty as an American and resident of the Northwest. Haha. The snakepit is pretty freaky - my sister almost got bitten once so we are all kind of disturbed by it. I haven't seen the original but i want to!

  3. I read the book this past summer and I agree with your assessment. And yes, I did re-watched the latest version of the movie and agree with that assessment as well. While I don't really care for westerns, this one is an exception and I think that most literary readers would enjoy this book.

  4. @Melissa - You said it perfectly!


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