True Grit
Charles Portis
Donna Tartt,

(Recorded Books)
True Grit charmed the pants off us when we read it back in 1968. It's late 19th Century Americana, a novel about Mattie Ross who journeys into the Choctaw Nation to find, capture, and bring to justice Tom Chaney, the man who shot her father.

Part of the joy of True Grit is the funny, upright, tart, and stilted language from turn-of-the-century Arkansas. The other is the characters: straight-talking, canny Mattie herself; then Mattie seeking out Rooster Cogburn --- she calls him a "one-eyed jasper" --- to find the murderer; and her elaborate, extended, and funny negotiations with those who she needs for her pursuit.

When she visits Rooster's living-quarters, she notes the dust and dirt and unmade bed: "Men will live like billy goats if they are let alone."

Mattie lets no one put her off or put her down. When she is with the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, he says,

    "I think your mother would not approve of your getting mixed up in this kind of enterprise. She thinks you are seeing about a horse. Criminal investigation is sordid and dangerous and is best left in the hands of men who know the work."

    "I suppose that is you. Well, if in four months I could not find Tom Chaney with a mark on his face like a banished Cain I would not undertake to advise others how to do it."

    "A saucy manner does not go down with me."

    "I will not be bullied."

    He stood up and said, "Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt."

    "One would be as unpleasant as the other," I replied. "Put a hand on me and you will answer for it. You are from Texas and ignorant of our ways but the good people of Arkansas do not go easy on men who abuse women and children."

    "The youth of Texas are brought up to be polite and to show respect for their elders."

    "I notice people of that state also gouge their horses with great brutal spurs."

    "You will push that saucy line too far."

    "I have no regard for you."

    He was angered and thus he left me, clanking away in all his Texas trappings.

It is a great adventure tale, even though it manages to go over the hill towards the end. Mattie finds herself thrown down a deep hole, with a broken arm and a nest of rattlesnakes nipping at her fingers and bats brushing against her legs. It's of The Perils of Pauline at its worst.

Ms. Tartt, the reader, lives up to her name and manages to sound like a fourteen-year-old girl from Dardanelle, Arkansas with "a tart tongue." At the end, however, we find that the story is being told by the "cranky old maid" that the girl has become after a half-or-century or so. Recorded Books might just as well have chosen an older scold, rather than this Tartt one.

--- Eileen Contreras
Go to a
from this book

Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH