Author: Charles Portis
Published: 2010 The Overlook Press (orig. 1968)
My Rating: 4 stars
There has been a surge of reviews on this book since the new film came out, and I understand why. I simply had to read this book after seeing the new film. (I'm not one who minds seeing a movie before reading the book--most often if I like the movie, I like the book even more.) I loved this film. The acting, the setting, and especially the dialogue. I haven't seen the old John Wayne movie, so I can't compare the two, but I can say that the recent one is a real treat. Reading the book after seeing the movie didn't diminish my opinion of either one. The film not only does a great job bringing the characters to life, but follows the book quite closely.
True Grit is Mattie's story of how, when she was 14 years old, she sought to avenge her father's death. It is told in her voice, and what a strong narrative voice she has. Mattie takes herself pretty seriously, and the story is a serious one in many regards, although there is humor laced throughout, making it feel more comic than dramatic. The part I had the most fun with was the dialogue--it is here that I found something truly unique (although the characters themselves were vivid and that was vital to the success of the story as well). It was so much fun to hear the outdated speech patterns, I almost wanted to read it aloud. The first line of the book might sound stilted, but if you take your time, put a voice to the lady telling the story, you can see that it is laden with character.
People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.There are very few contractions used in the speech, and it makes for interesting reading. Contractions are such a part of speech patterns around me that it was a fascinating comparison. I'm glad that I saw the movie before reading the book, because it allowed me to really hear the characters. Passages in the book may have struck me as contrived or unrealistic if I didn't have such a good example of how it could really sound.
Mattie's voice and personality were strong and unique from beginning to end, and the pace never lagged for me. Dialogue is not an area in writing that I'm used to being so entertained by, so this was a surprise and a delight. I look forward to reading more Charles Portis in the future.