Author: Charles Portis | Page Count: 227
“You go for a man hard enough and fast enough and he don’t have time to think about how many is with him, he thinks about himself and how he may get clear out of the wrath that is about to set down on him.”
Though it won't matter very much to anyone reading this, I've been a fan of the Western film genre for almost thirty years (thanks, mom ♥) but until picking up True Grit for the first time last week I'd never actually read a Western novel.* The reason I mention that at all is to point out that an enjoyment of one isn't dependent on a love of the other. The book and its characters are so well-written that they would stand head and shoulders above thousands of similar types no matter what year or setting they were placed in.
It's the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who sets out to avenge the murder of her father. The murder happened before the book begins, so that's not a spoiler.
The narrative is first person, told by the girl, Mattie Ross, in a conversational style. Mattie's a young woman in a man's world, but she's not the stereotype. She's strong-willed and of the view that her education puts her on equal footing and deserving an equal amount of respect to that of her elders. Her elders, for the most part, are men of low virtue who see the world very differently to her.
And then there's Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn who knows first-hand the cruelties and hardships that await anyone who undertakes the kind of endeavour she sets in motion. Cogburn's badge gives him licence to act the way he does, but he'd do the same even without it. He's a man of principals; ones unique to himself.
Mattie occasionally gets lost in the telling, jumping ahead of herself to give an account of things that happened years after the novel's main story. It effectively conveys her feelings about what constitutes justice, often vindicating her strong opinions about things. She likes to say 'I was right,' as much as the next man.
The dialogue is of the era (1880-ish) but never difficult to read. There's some excellent comedy moments that had me howling even though they're sometimes played straight. Portis kept the momentum thundering along from beginning to end. There wasn't a single moment when I wasn't eager to turn the page and keep on reading. His final chapter is simply astonishing.
5 measures of people out of 5
*Unless you count Stephen King's Dark Tower series, but the magical realism aspects of it complicate any kind of straight-up classification.