Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Naturally I did not wish to use my education in this robber's service

Many times when I'm reading, I'll jot down some notes in blogger for when I get around to writing a review. Sometimes there will be lots of thoughts and the review is pretty much written by the time I'm done. Other times there's just a line or 2. For True Grit, here's the only note I took:

I want to be clear, this is no indication of how good the book is, or how much I liked it. Just that this was apparently the only thing I felt the need to write down, because it was so important I didn't want to forget it.

I don't know what it is that made me pick up True Grit. I'm not really a fan of Westerns. The Sisters Brothers is the only one I can think of having read. I wasn't a fan of the movie. I wasn't not a fan of the movie. I haven't seen the movie, is what I'm trying to say. It was on sale, but there were loads of books on sale and I can't say what made me pick up this one and leave another one behind. But I'm glad I did.

This is a simple story* about Mattie Ross avenging her father's death by hiring US Marshal Rooster Cogburn. Mattie is fourteen and...I'm not really sure what other word to use here. The whole time I was reading it I tried to come up with something. Spitfire? Kind of but she's more reserved. Solemn? She's certainly very serious, but she's not dour. She knows what needs to be done and she is single minded in making sure Tom Chaney is brought to justice. Or killed. Western justice.

Mattie is one hundred times more mature than I am even now. Or probably will ever be. She's so young, she's just lost her father, but she never waivers from her goal. She goes to Fort Smith to settle her father's affairs and retrieve the body. Wait, let me say that one more time. She goes to retrieve her father's body. I would be a wreck and she's so, not fine with it, but it has to be done and so she does it. And she doesn't just do it, but she does it so well. She haggles and threatens to bring in lawyers to sell back the ponies her father bought, but now that the family no longer needs. She finds out Cogburn as "grit" and she makes it her mission to not only hire him, but to go along. She doesn't always get her way. She did everything she could to keep Texas Ranger LaBoeuf from joining in the hunt for Chaney, but ultimately he joins them, though she makes it clear she wants Chaney tried for her father's murder and not the bounty Chaney is hunting him for.

I love Mattie. She's wonderful and very funny, though she doesn't really intend to be. She's just so adorable when "the biggest story [she] ever told!" is that she's not tired when actually she is quite sleepy. And of course there's that cat quote I felt the need to make note of:
I had hated these ponies for the part they played in my father's death but now I realized the notion was fanciful, that it was wrong to charge blame to these pretty beasts who knew neither good nor evil but only innocence. I say that of these ponies. I have known some horses and a good many more pigs who I believe harbored evil intent in their hearts. I will go further  and say all cats are wicked, though often useful.
She's so sincere and earnest and naive. One more example of how she's a great narrator? Oh well, if you insist
He passed over the check. "Is this any good to me?"
It was a cashier's check for $2,750 drawn on the Grangers Trust Co. of Topeka, Kansas, to a man named Marshall Purvis. I said, "This is a cashier's check of $2,750 drawn on the Grangers Trust Co. of Topeka, Kansas, to a man named Marhall Purvis"
Love her.

That's not to say the other characters aren't also great. Cogburn is curmudgeonly and a drunk and has seen better days, but under it all has a real sense of loyalty and honor. LaBoeuf is a lot of bluster and a lot of personality, but like Cogburn, he comes through in a crisis. Chaney and his gang of criminals (or really Lucky Ned Pepper's gang) are just as fun to watch, for the opposite reasons. They have no honor, but they aren't really evil.

And there's suspense! They're hunting down this murderer so of course there's suspense. It's not constant which is nice cos you need a breather but it's done so well.  Even if you don't typically read Westerns, just read this one. I have no idea if it's anything like "typical Westerns" but this is just so good.

I haven't seen any of the movies, so I have no idea how they compare. Anyone seen them? Are they good?

*Simple, but not easy. It's an important distinction.

Title quote from page 195

Portis, Charles. True Grit. Overlook Press, 2010. Originally published 1968