true grit

Last month (sigh, I know… catching up!) I read True Grit by Charles Portis for the Kansas City Public Library’s 2013 Big Read program. It was actually a pretty quick read but I was putting off posting until our library discussion appeared in the paper/online, and that was only last week! From Goodreads:

Charles Portis has long been acclaimed as one of America’s foremost writers. True Grit, his most famous novel, was first published in 1968, and became the basis for the movie starring John Wayne. True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father’s blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

I was really excited to be a part of the Big Read this year—I missed it last time around (and it was Tom Sawyer anyway; I’ve already read that). True Grit was out of my comfort zone, since I’d never read a Western before—it’s just not a genre that captures my interest much. However, True Grit protagonists Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn certainly captured my attention. I was repeatedly shocked and awed by Mattie’s audacity, confidence, and, well, her true grit. I mean, a 14-year-old chasing down her father’s murderer? Cunningly negotiating the price of ponies and services? Ruthlessly dealing with dangerous, grown adult strangers miles and miles away from home? Wow. She had real mettle and quickly became one of my favorite fictional characters.

Rooster Cogburn, the marshal Mattie enlists to help her find Chaney, was quite the character himself, too. Now, I did see the 2010 Coen Brothers film with Jeff Bridges in the role before reading the book, and I love Jeff Bridges, so I had trouble not visualizing him in my mind while reading True Grit. But I thought Cogburn, for all his stubborn orneriness, had a caring underbelly in his own way—how he didn’t ditch Mattie no matter how stubborn and ornery she could be!

Another thing I loved about the book was how humorous it is, which took me by surprise. Not a comedy per se, but several times throughout Mattie will relate a a memory of this long-ago adventure that was just absurd and hilarious, like when Rooster decided to tell her his life story and it became so long-winded that Mattie dozed off, only for Rooster to nudge her awake again to keep talking to her, or when Mattie was vaguely remembering the romance novel she read to another hotel tenet at the beginning of the book, or the “Rat Writ” giving by Rooster to the varmint in his living quarters… and so on.

Being a citizen of Kansas City, Missouri, it was also pretty great to catch references to local history like the Lawrence Massacre during the American Civil War and encountering Jesse James’s crew. I also liked that the action mostly took place in Arkansas and Oklahoma rather than Texas or further in the Southwest, like where you’d imagine most Westerns are set.

As much as I did really enjoy True Grit, I still don’t think Westerns in general are for me and I’m not too interested in seeing the John Wayne film version, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the Coen Brothers one again in the future. But I definitely would recommend True Grit to anyone who likes adventure, spunky female leads, and unlikely partnerships.

I’m part of the Stranger than Fiction book group at the KC Library, but for our discussion on True Grit we joined up with the FYI book group for a mega-group discussion, which was published in the Kansas City StarClick here to read it!

Read from October 4 to 19, 2013.

4 thoughts on “true grit

  1. I felt a little like this when I first started reading The Son (Westerns are SO not in my genre), but it ended up being much more in the vein of historical fiction. I really think I would like True Grit, I just always get nervous about reading books that I’ve seen the movies for first!

    • I bought The Son and it’s been sitting on my shelf… sigh! That darn TBR!! 😉

      Yeah I probably would not have picked up True Grit on my own, without the book group selecting it. I’m glad I did, though! I know I said it took me 2 weeks to read it, but really if I hadn’t had such an insanely busy October I probably could have finished in more like 2 days.

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