Today is World Review Day. I finished True Grit last night and thought that this would be a good one to discuss.
I vaguely remember that I may have read this book many years ago–probably when the original film came out. I haven’t seen the remake of the movie, but I remembered the story fondly, and reading the book was like greeting an old friend. But as a writer, I can now appreciate it much more as an example of the craft.
Discussing this with my parents over the weekend (my father had just finished it, and my mother is currently reading it)one of the topics that came up was the language. Some people may feel that the style is stilted, but to me, it captures the sense of time and character beautifully.
For those who may not know the story — 14-year-old Mattie Ross has come to Fort Smith, Arkansas from her family’s small holding seeking information on, and assistance in capturing, the man who murdered her father. She meets Federal Marshall Rooster Cogburn and convinces him to take on the task of hunting down Tom Chaney for a $100 bounty. Along the way, they are joined by a Texas Ranger who has reasons of his own for bringing Chaney in.
The story is told in first person as one long monologue from Mattie’s point-of-view, much like Huckleberry Finn, and paints the picture of a self reliant, poised young woman with a head on her shoulders and no qualms about doing what is necessary to see justice done. The story is a reminiscence from the adult Mattie, and it probably could be argued that she is mis-remembering things a tad…but I choose to think not. I think Mattie was born old, and grew into the personality we see in the book.
The descriptions are matter-of-fact, but detailed. With a few perfectly chosen words, Portis gives us portraits of people and places–some historical, some fictional–that would have been found in the Indian Territory and its outskirts.
I truly believe this should be mandatory reading for every fledgling author, because mastering the craft to this degree should be the goal of all of us.