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125 of 131 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To be young, Calvinist, and ugly.
I love this novel, having stumbled across it in a used bookstore some 20 years ago, having read it expecting not much more than stilted prose and shootouts, and having returned to it again and again since that first reading.

It's written in the first person, kind of like a memoir, by an old woman describing a youthful adventure. And what an adventure...
Published on November 11, 2004 by R. J. Maxwell

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59 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gritty Realistic Novel of the West
Charles Portis' "True Grit" is the story of Mattie Ross a 14 year old girl in the old west circa 1875. After her father is murdered Mattie goes in search of justice for him and falls in with U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn who, along with Texas Ranger, LaBeouf follow the murderer into the Indian Territory. The story is familiar to most because of the 1969 movie starring...
Published on November 30, 2010 by Jym Cherry


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125 of 131 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To be young, Calvinist, and ugly., November 11, 2004
This review is from: True Grit (Paperback)
I love this novel, having stumbled across it in a used bookstore some 20 years ago, having read it expecting not much more than stilted prose and shootouts, and having returned to it again and again since that first reading.

It's written in the first person, kind of like a memoir, by an old woman describing a youthful adventure. And what an adventure! Shootouts are the least of it.

Mattie Ross, the adolescent girl, is stingy, opinionated, unsentimental, and as tough as John Wayne, if not as big and strong. She conforms to Northrop Frye's concept of the "ironic" hero -- too naive to understand the things she's dealing with, like Voltaire's "Candide." When her ability to keep up during the pursuit of some outlaws is questioned, she answers defiantly, "Pappa took me on a coon hunt once." Camping overnight with the two lawmen, she registers a succinct complaint, "One of the officers made a wet snoring sound. It was disgusting."

But the prose is delirious throughout, like the events they describe. There's a laugh on almost every page, far too many to give examples. I should mention too that the prose is historically and regionally accurate. About a bucket of milk, Matty says, "It looks like bluejohn to me." I looked up "bluejohn" in the Dictionary of American Regional English, and there it was, an old term used in and around Arkansas for skim milk. Likewise, kerosene becomes coal oil. Tall scrubby weeds are a "brake." And all of these regionalisms are woven into a prose style that is memorably idiosyncratic and unintentionally funny as all get out! Rooster Cogburn intends to shoot an unsuspecting man in the back because, "It will give them to know our intentions is serious." Now that's a sentence to savor. First of all, there is the absurdity of the plan. Cogburn, instead of calling out and telling him that he's serious, is going to kill him just to be sure he and his friends know it. Second, there is the absence of contractions, as if the narrator is determined not to lapse into a casual style. And there is the attempt at elegance of expression -- "give them to know," and "our intentions [not just "we"]" are not to be taken lightly. And then there is the telling mixture of a plural noun ("intentions") with a single verb ("is"). The effect is disjointed. It's like hearing a rapper throw in an allusion to Thomas Aquinas.

I haven't read any other works by Charles Portis. I haven't gone out of my way to avoid them but I haven't sought them out either because I can't believe they could possibly match the humor, irony, character, and suspense of True Grit.
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62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly great, November 30, 2010
This review is from: True Grit: A Novel (Paperback)
I'm not sure what more I can say than, "Wow!" I don't know if I've ever been more surprised by a book. I ran across it a few times in the library and thought about checking it out, but then I kept remembering that John Wayne won his only Oscar in the movie version (which I haven't seen), and I don't really care for John Wayne, so that must have subconsciously led me to keep leaving it on the shelf. But, I finally picked it up, took it home, dipped into it -- and was instantly hooked. This is a gripping book about the single-minded pursuit justice in the 1870s, written in the amazing voice of a deadpan, plain-speaking prose of a woman looking back at the events some 30-40 years later.

Mattie Ross's beloved rancher father was murdered by a drunk hired hand while they were away on business, and Mattie's ineffectual mother sends her to town to collect the body. She does so, but also seeks out a U.S. Marshall whom she can tempt into heading into the Indian Territory of modern-day Oklahoma to track down and kill or capture the murderer. The crusty lawman she eventually hires has his flaws, including a taste for the drink and sordid service in the Civil War with Quantrill's Raiders (or one of the other loose raiding companies). But he also has a code he follows which makes him the right match for Mattie, who sees life in black and white absolutes. They are joined by a Texas lawman pursing the man for another crime (and substantial bounty) and the trio head off to find their man. Adventures and surprises ensue, including plenty of shooting and killing -- all recounted in the sparse and often unintentionally funny voice of the elder Mattie. Her voice is singular and riveting, making Mattie instantly into one of my favorite characters in American literature. The book is a true masterpiece- I'm buying 10 copies and giving them out as Christmas presents.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase adventure., October 7, 1997
By A Customer
I was eleven the first time I read this. I bought it at one of those book-mobile sales in school after seeing (and totally falling in love with) the movie. Probably the only thing I ever bought in elementary school that I still have. I thought it was incredible then, and (20 years later) I still love it! The writing style is so straight-forward and unaffected that you can't help but be drawn into Mattie's adventure (and you can't help but believe every dang word that comes out of her mouth). How refreshing to read a story about a fourteen year old girl who isn't mooning over some boy or whining about some stereotypical teenage dilemma. We're talking about a girl out to avenge her father's death - I mean, here is a girl with a mission! What a great story. I think the title says it all.
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59 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gritty Realistic Novel of the West, November 30, 2010
This review is from: True Grit: A Novel (Paperback)
Charles Portis' "True Grit" is the story of Mattie Ross a 14 year old girl in the old west circa 1875. After her father is murdered Mattie goes in search of justice for him and falls in with U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn who, along with Texas Ranger, LaBeouf follow the murderer into the Indian Territory. The story is familiar to most because of the 1969 movie starring John Wayne. With the release of the Coen Brothers "True Grit" I wanted to see what the book was like.

Mattie Ross is beyond precocious. She's practical, stubborn, judgmental and has grit enough herself to hire the orneriest U.S. Marshall she can find and embark on an adventure into a life she wasn't born to and had her father not been killed probably wouldn't have known anything of the world she ventures into. Cogburn is a Marshall that has tenuous connections to both the world of the law and the outlaw and when he meets Mattie he's working in the world that pays the best, at the moment. Cogburn's voice fairly booms off the page (and it's hard not to hear Wayne's voice in them), but Mattie's voice also has it's character more diminutive but no less strong. Portis develops the characters mostly through their voice and you won't be mistaken about who's talking or what they're saying. The story is so simply told it could almost be part of an oral tradition and told from the point of view of Mattie remembering back upon her life maybe that's the way it was intended.

In Donna Tartt's afterward she compares Mattie to Huck Finn and Ahab, but I think she may be reading too much into it that isn't there. "True Grit" is Mattie practical and plainspoken. Mattie says exactly what's on her mind and in the story Portis tells us exactly what's there (not even what isn't there), and usually only enough to move the story along. In one instance when Portis did try to provide some character development for Cogburn, which turns out to be kind of a generic resume of a frontier character, it slows the story down, but it's a rare misstep in "True Grit."

"True Grit" is a light, easy read. I finished it one afternoon, or you can savor it over a period of time. Portis` "True Grit" can be a primer for the movies or not. What you see in the movie (at least the original and from the look of the previews of the Coen Brother's "True Grit") follows the book. If you're a reader who wants to see the book the movies are based on, or if you're a movie-goer who wants to read the original I think you'll be satisfied with "True Grit."
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Have this book surgically attached to your body!, February 8, 2005
By 
This review is from: True Grit (Paperback)
I have read True Grit about 16 times. Every time I go into The Strand or any book store I find a copy and prop it up on the fiction table hoping to infect someone else with the Portis bug. I have read all of his work, even "Gringos," and it is all as funny and real as "True Grit," especially "Norwood." I lobby high school teachers to get "True Grit" or "Norwood" on reading lists and I lend out copies left and right or give them away in the hopes of widening Portis' sphere of influence.

But enough about me. "True Grit" is such a great read, full of jokes. I know I won't do them justice but here are a couple of scenes I like: The degenerate Marshall Rooster Cockburn lives in the back of a general store with a Chinese guy and a cat called Genera Price. He sleeps in a string bed (!) and shoots a rat during a business meeting with Mattie, the 14-year-old protagonist out after her father's killer. Or after Mattie tries to buy a horse from a local business man, vexing him beyond all limits, the business man sees her walking up the path and says "I heard tell of a young girl drowning in a well last night. But I can see you are fine." And the horse Blackie is such a good horse and the scene near the tail of the book where Blackie meets his end is so succinct and sad!

This is a great book that I think just about everyone would enjoy from 10-year-olds to 75 year-olds

Portis is supposedly holed up in a fishing shack in Arkansas writing a new book. I have a google search on his name to keep track of all Portis activity! I can't wait!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An American Classic, December 5, 2003
By 
Stanley Booth (Brunswick, GA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: True Grit (Paperback)
Charles Portis, a veteran of the Marine Corps in the Korean War from Little Rock, Arkansas, worked as a newspaperman in Little Rock, Memphis, New York, and London, ending his newspaper career as London bureau chief for the New York Herald-Tribune. He also wrote for such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post before launching his career as a novelist with the incomparable Norwood. True Grit, his second book, is one of the true joys of American literature. I give it four stars rather than five because it may not be as significant, ultimately, as Huckleberry Finn or, say, Faulkner's The Hamlet. This is beside the point. True Grit will likely last as long as does this Republic. It is funny, scary, thrilling. How can a burr-head Marine like Portis channel Mattie Ross of Yell County, Arkansas, a fourteen-year-old girl bent on avenging her father's cowardly murder at the hands of the white-trash Tom Chaney? It's a mystery. The novel was made into a film, the only one for which John Wayne was awarded an Oscar, but don't let that fool you. This is a great book, one that will bear many rereadings.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Great American Characters, October 20, 2010
By 
Oddsfish (United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: True Grit (Paperback)
This really is one of the great, hidden American classics. And it is so for one key reason: Mattie Ross.

Mattie Ross is a strong-headed fourteen-year-old in frontier Arkansas when her father is murdered and robbed by a man he had saved and hired. Mattie, with wisdom, determination, and a highly developed sense of justice, sets out to hire a man with true grit--Rooster Cogburn--to pursue the killer into the lawless Indian territory to hunt him down. It's a simple revenge plot, I guess. But Mattie is fascinating. She's strong, wise, and quick-witted. She's also complex--empathetic, loving, compassionate, and hard at the same time. I will never forget her voice; it's every bit as naive and yet wise, and every bit as funny, as Huck Finn's.

It's not a bad story either. It's a very solid western. And it's thematically meaningful, too. Mattie is driven to impose justice onto a wild and lawless world, and you wonder at the end if it was all possible or worth it. It's not a simple story. And it's easy to see why the Coen brothers have chosen True Grit as a worthy story to film, especially after having recently made No Country for Old Men. There are similar themes here--the inexplicable nature of evil and the high price of justice. Hopefully, many new readers will find this fine novel upon the release of that film.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best novels I've ever read, December 2, 2010
By 
Jordan M. Poss (South Carolina, United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: True Grit (Paperback)
I bought True Grit on a whim after seeing the trailer for the new film version. I like to read novels before seeing their film adaptations, and after reading the cover blurb--which compared Portis to Cormac McCarthy, one of my favorite authors--I decided to give it a go. I read it in two days.

I'm glad I did. True Grit is one of the best novels I've read in a long time. The story should be familiar to anyone who has seen the popular John Wayne film version, so I won't spend a lot of time recounting it. Fourteen-year old Mattie Ross journeys to Fort Smith, Arkansas, when her father is murdered there by a hired hand. Mattie, a straight-faced, utterly serious young girl, means to have the murderer--a man named Tom Chaney--brought to justice. Swiftly. She finds the local law enforcement slack and apathetic and asks the sheriff who the best marshals are. She pursues "the meanest," Rooster Cogburn, and hires him to bring Chaney in.

Mattie and Rooster are characters for the ages. They and the supporting characters--such as dapper Texan LeBoeuf, a gang of crooks, and especially the stable manager Mattie pesters over monetary and legal questions--are not only realistic, believable people, they're hilarious. That blurb I mentioned effectively called Portis a humorous McCarthy. Such a comparison is apt but shortchanges Portis. Yes, he's funny, and True Grit is a very funny book, but it's also dramatic, suspenseful, and deeply moving.

I'll definitely be checking out Portis's other work, and look forward even more to the Coen brothers' film adaptation. But True Grit is worth reading regardless.

Highly recommended.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific reading of a modern classic, January 26, 2008
This review is from: True Grit (Audio CD)
I read a lot of books (164 in 2007), and it's rare that I actually have an emotional response. Not to the story -- that has to happen or reading would be no fun at all. I mean feeling genuine affection for the characters, so that I'm actually sorry the story is over.

True Grit is the first book in a long time to elicit that response from me, and I'm not exactly sure why it did. It was certainly not the plot, which is simplicity itself: fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross hires an unconventional U.S. marshal, Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, to hunt down Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. That's all, but it takes the whole book for that storyline to complete itself, and what a glorious ride it is.

What makes the read memorable is how Portis draws his two lead characters. The title attribute is at first meant to apply to Cogburn, of course, but we soon discover that Mattie herself has just as much "grit" (the word "sand" is also used in this way) when she asks the local sheriff for his opinion on who the best marshal is:

He said, "...I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking.... Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive.... He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say that Quinn is about the best they have."

I said, "Where can I find this Rooster?"

Mattie is full of surprises, but we soon find that Rooster is, too. Introduced as a hard-drinking, unreliable man who is the epitome of the loner, Rooster begins to grudgingly admire the "sand" (a.k.a. "grit") of this "child" and a kind of respect (and later, affection) grows between them. It is this unexpected turn of character (along with other surprising touches that kept me on my toes) that display Portis's skill to such great effect.

Donna Tartt (an author in her own right) gives a fine reading on the audiobook of True Grit. Her Mississippi accent substitutes for the Arkansas twang of the characters well enough for most listeners, and her vocal characterizations are utterly perfect. Not only are they distinct and unmistakable, but they also express a deep knowledge of these people as individuals, allowing the listener to completely get lost in the story.

Tartt's afterword adds little except to express her entire family's love for the book (it is, I understand, an introduction to the print edition, and is probably better served in that capacity), but acts as a good celebration of a book that is likely to become one of my favorites, as well.

Like I stated at the beginning, very few books speak to my emotions the way that True Grit did, and I look forward to reexperiencing its wonders in the near future because this is one book that will require multiple readings to really understand its subtleties. This is not just a terrific Western; it's a terrific novel, and one that deserves a wider audience.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Grit: Truly Great, September 14, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: True Grit (Mass Market Paperback)
True Grit has long been one of my favorite novels. I bought a copy in 1969 when I was 12 -- either right before or right after I saw the movie, I can't remember -- and read it straight through in a matter of days, then, as soon as I finished it, I turned right back to the first page and read the whole thing all over again. I've read it several times since then, including once out loud to my kids, who likewise loved it.
What makes it great? The originality of the characters, the simple flow of the story, the color and reality of the dialogue, and the excellent movie that largely reflects the book. I love the action and the lapses in action; the conversations and the motives and quirks of the characters are as interesting and as colorful as Rooster's charge at Ned Pepper's gang or the ambush at the dugout. True Grit is a classic American novel.
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True Grit
True Grit by Charles Portis (Paperback - August 28, 2007)
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