Cowboys, Revenge & a Girl with True Grit

Last week, I was stumped.

In a frenzy of birthdays and worry for results, I hadn’t seen an interesting film, nor read a good book in a while.

I needed to occupy my mind with something. Something that I could review quickly. A book would be the better option. Something relatively short, which I could finish by the end of the week, so after checking my summer reading pile, I found one book that I had started to read over a year ago: True Grit.

I must say, I’m surprised by the progress I’ve made, and found myself finishing the book by Saturday. My sofa now has a Vinci-shaped print on it, but nevertheless, the book was finished.

So without further delay, let us talk about True Grit.

True Grit is a 200-paged western novel written by Charles Portis, narrated by an old, yet independent woman named Mattie Ross, retelling her story of when, at fourteen, she went to avenge her father’s untimely death at the hands of his travelling companion and lodger called Tom Chaney. Hiring a one-eyed U.S. Marshall, Rooster Cogburn with an unorthodox handling of justice (a.k.a. a man with true grit), and with a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, they set off to find Tom Chaney.

What I liked about this book was that it didn’t take away the magic of a western. I’ve grown up in a generation where the great Western days are gone. The Dollars Trilogy sits on my need-to-watch films pile to this day. I need some spaghetti and Eastwood in my life right now.

Mattie’s narration is direct and to-the-point, emulating a teenage girl too big for her boots, but in a likable way. Portis’ has an interesting style of writing, turning to a transcript to cover a courtroom scene. Each characters’ agitation or stalling can be heard clearly through the spoken word, which is an impressive feat.

The book does seem to drag at the beginning. And I wish more content was added. We get such a hype of travelling into ‘Indian Territory’ which is where the outlaws go on their Saturday nights, but spend a lot of time in Fort Smith, where Mattie deals with her father’s unfinished business. While the transactions between people in town show Mattie as a strong, independent character, she is there for a loooong time. Like, half-way through the book long.

Onto the good stuff! The action that there is, it’s exciting. Very exciting. You have head-shots, stand-offs, a guy being butchered with a kitchen knife… y’know Western kind of stuff. Portis can write some pretty grisly imagery well, as well as intense situations.

The characters are nicely diverse, none being “Mary-Sue” characters. They are not the perfection of cowboys. They aren’t sharp-shooters and they aren’t all ‘good’ people. Mattie is a girl who is born in the wrong generation; sharp, but headstrong. Tough, but has her breaking point. Her characteristics balance out well.

Rooster is a drunkard, a talker and really isn’t your upstanding Marshall. He doesn’t abide by the rules, but has a soft-spot for Mattie and the impression is that he respects her. Even though he’s mostly motivated by money, he is happy to abide to Mattie’s wishes.

Labouef is that guy you know that thinks he’s better than everyone. You know that person. Who’s shiny clothes and good-looks gets on your nerves. Labouef doesn’t approve of Mattie coming along at all, and seems annoyed at not getting his own way.

Most of the other characters are motivated by money. The “bad guys” were quite generic, in that sense, and the characters in Fort Smith were all focussing on trying to scam Mattie. To be honest, money comes up a lot. Mattie has a side-story of getting money from ponies his father bought, then she helps Rooster with his money problems, and Rooster and Labouef try and leave Mattie behind because of the money. The bandits? They’ve just came from a heist for money! Hey, it’s The Wild West everybody!

Anyway, if I had to give an overall comment on True Grit it would be a fairly short novel of the Wild West as it was, with a simple story of revenge. It’s not the best book in the world, but Mattie proves an excellent character, as she travels through thick and thin to find the man who killed her father. While slow starting, True Grit suddenly picks up to be an adventure of determination, with realistic, tense action which leaves an impact on the life of Mattie Ross. An impact on you? Nah, not really.

Sorry, this really isn’t one of my best reviews and I know it. I didn’t prepare very well. Oh well, I’ll try again with the film!

Anyway, tomorrow will be Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I saw it and I had to write a review. See you all tomorrow.