Arkansas


Horse Back
Photo by notashamed used under a Creative Commons license.

Charles Portis, True Grit (Overlook, 2007).
Mattie Ross is only fourteen years old, but when a hired hand named Tom Chaney kills her father near Fort Smith, Arkansas, she sets out on his trial.  In Fort Smith, Ross hears that Chaney has joined up with a band of outlaws in the Indian Territory, the Oklahoma of yesteryear, and she finds help of her own in Rooster Cogburn, a federal marshal, and a Texas Ranger named Le Bouef.  They head west, each with their own agenda.  It wouldn’t be right to say more of the plot, but the way that Portis narrates the tale in Mattie’s voice should not be missed.  Perhaps this book is overlooked because John Wayne played Cogburn in the movie?

The novel’s Wikipedia page is relatively lengthy and thoughtful. NPR offers an excerpt. Vered Kleinberger put together this page on Portis. Alex T. Moore’s unofficial Portis site has all sorts of content. Ed Park’s piece on Portis for The Believer is a must-read. Orrin calls it one of the funniest, most under appreciated novels in all of American literature; he also collects worthwhile Portis links. Mark Garvey says it feels archetypal, and so well done that it seems to have been written much nearer to the era it portrays (1873) than to our own time. Brian Garfield (Saturday Review) calls it a straightforward tale with endless nuances. Richard Rhodes (The New York Times) calls it skillfully constructed, a comic tour de force. Charles Taylor (Newsday) says it flirts with myth and tall tale, but reading it is like encountering a voice speaking to us directly from America’s past. Cassandra Cleghorn (Tin House) hears Mark Twain in it. Allen Barra (Salon) celebrated when it was put back into print. Rocky Barker says it transcends genre fiction. Steve Zipp calls it an anti-western. Resolute Reader says it has all of the excitement of the movie. Eileen Contreras calls it a great adventure tale. Shane enjoyed it less than he thought he would. Benjamin Potter calls it a real shoot ‘em up.  Donna Tartt believes it’s a masterpiece. Maggie identifies with Mattie. Julie has the movie trailer. Bec says if you don’t like it there’s something wrong with you. Andy calls it pleasantly conciseVariety says the Coen brothers will make it into another movie. Roy Reed interviewed Portis in 2001. Chris Lehman talked about Portis and the novel with George Pelecanos in 2006. Here is the first edition’s cover. And Scott McLemee reports from the Charles Portis Appreciation Society.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

belize city
Photo of Belize City by scaturchio used under a Creative Commons license.

Charles Portis, The Dog of the South (Overlook, 1999).
When Ray Midge finds that his wife has run off with his friend in his Grand Torino, he takes the man’s car and drives south after them.  This chase takes him from Little Rock to the British Honduras, now better known as Arkansas, as he searches for answers.  Portis is a comic genius who writes like no one else, this overlooked masterpiece is worth reading wherever you are.  I’ve tagged it under Arkansas because Portis is one of that state’s top writers, and Belize because that’s where Midge ends up.

Here is Wikipedia’s Portis page. Alex T. Moore’s Unofficial Charles Portis Website has an impressive wealth of information.  Vered Kleinberger of Emory University also created a great Portis website.  Scott McLemee appreciates Portis. So does Ed Park, in The Believer. Mark Garvey has an excerpt. Scott McLemee has a couple. Ron Rosenbaum (New York Observer), a big fan, was thrilled. Walter Clemons (Newsweek) says reading it is like being held down and tickled. Patrick Kurp laughed out loud. Benjamin Lytal (New York Sun) says it’s hilarious. Joseph McLellan (Book World) says if it weren’t so darned funny, it would be tragedy. Charles Michaud (Library Journal) calls it a wildly funny book. Roy Blount, Jr., says no one should die without reading it. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (New York Times) liked it, I think. Greg Purcell recommends it. So does Dylan Hicks. CL says you need it. Earlier this year it was optioned. In 2001, Roy Reed interviewed Portis

Buy it at Amazon.com.