Wednesday, June 10, 2020

"The wicked flee when no one pursues..."

In The New York Times, a wonderful appreciation by Donna Tartt, who did the audio book of True Grit, of Charles Portis, its author, who died this spring. On True Grit:
Comedy is the most ephemeral of the arts. There are very few comic novels that do not wither with time, and even fewer novels — comic or otherwise — that can be given to pretty much anyone, from an old person to a small child. Even more rare is a novel one can reliably turn to for cheer when one is sick or sad. But “True Grit” is this rare novel, and Mattie Ross, its narrator, is one of the greatest of Portis’s innocents: a Presbyterian spinster who in old age relates the story of how, as a child, she struck out in the 1870s to avenge her father’s murder. “People do not give it credence that a 14-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.” It’s a serious book by any measure; Mattie’s rage and grief are thunderous (“What a waste! Tom Chaney would pay for this! I would not rest easy until that Louisiana cur was roasting and screaming in hell!”) and yet perhaps the greatest pleasure of the book is Mattie’s speaking voice: rambling, deadpan, didactic, sprinkled with oddball opinions and facts, obstinate in its views and acute in its observations. Of Chaney, the hired man who murdered her father (“He was a short man with cruel features. I will tell more about his face later”), she has this to say: “He had no gun but he carried his rifle slung across his back on a piece of cotton plow line. There is trash for you. He could have taken an old piece of harness and made a nice leather strap for it. That would have been too much trouble.” ....
I love that book and enjoy both of the films.

Donna Tartt on the Singular Voice, and Pungent Humor, of Charles Portis - The New York Times

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