Thursday, June 20, 2019

Fiction Review: True Grit

My favorite books podcast, Book Cougars, recently hosted a readalong of the classic Western novel, True Grit, by Charles Portis. Since I am behind on my Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge, and I enjoyed the most recent (2010) movie adaptation of the novel, I decided to join the fun, and I picked up a copy at Browseabout Books, one of our favorite independent bookstores, in nearby Rehoboth Beach. My husband was interested, too, and he read it before I did. I finally fit it into my reading schedule in May. I remembered only the barest outline of the plot from the movie and was pleasantly surprised by how good the novel was – not only action-packed and suspenseful, as I expected, but also riveting and very funny.

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross travels from her farm in Yell County, Arkansas, to Fort Smith to avenge her father’s recent murder. On a trip to Fort Smith to buy some ponies, her father was shot in the head by their hired hand, Tom Chaney, in a drunken fury. Mattie wants to return the ponies, get their money back, and make sure that Tom Chaney is arrested and punished for what he did. She finds, though, that Tom is on the run with some other criminals, off into Indian Country (which would later become Oklahoma). Mattie inquires as to the meanest, most ruthless of the U.S. Marshals, and she hires one-eyed Rooster Cogburn to help her track Tom. Gruff Rooster isn’t too happy to be traveling with a fourteen-year-old girl, but Mattie pays him well, and she soon wins his grudging respect, as they track the killer across the wild, dangerous country.

Mattie is one of the best literary characters ever – she’s in a class with Scout Finch for spunk, personality, and intelligence, only with a big helping of courage added in. Determined to see her father avenged, Mattie is single-minded and fearless and keeps up with Rooster and the other rough, experienced men they team up with later. I remembered the fast-paced action and suspense of the story from the movie, but what I loved best was the dry humor of Mattie’s narration. Her very serious, precocious attitude plus a touch of young girl naiveté makes for a very amusing account that often had me laughing out loud, as in her assessment of the temperaments of animals:
“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. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces?”

Portis is an absolute genius to so perfectly capture the voice of this young girl. The straightforward tone and deadpan telling (Mattie tells the story as an adult, looking back) make for a subtle yet amusing tale of a classic Western adventure, complete with bandits, gunfights, and rattlesnakes. I had never heard of Portis’ other four novels, but now I am eager to read them. Thanks, Book Cougars, for the inspiration to read this wonderful classic!

224 pages, The Overlook Press

If you have also read True Grit, you can listen to the readalong episode on Book Cougars, where the two hosts discuss the book.

Listen to a sample of the audio book - which sounds wonderful! I bet it's great to listen to Mattie tell her story. 

You can purchase True Grit from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Or you can order True Grit from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I had no idea that True Grit wasn't a cowboy novel and that it centered on a little girl!

    1. Well, it IS a Western, for sure, but yes, narrated by a young girl - I think you'd love it - great sense of humor!

  2. I read this book last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, too. I love Mattie's voice.

    1. Yes, me, too! The audio sounds great :)