Throwback Thursday ~ True Grit

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Pick any bookish or literary-related media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago.
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

True Grit by Charles Portis

Charles Portis has long been acclaimed as one of America’s foremost comic writers. True Grit is his most famous novel–first published in 1968, and the basis for the movie of the same name starring John Wayne and now the film by the Coen brothers starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.

It tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash money. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father’s blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

True Grit is eccentric, cool, straight, and unflinching, like Mattie herself. (via Goodreads)

I finished listening to this yesterday, an audiobook borrowed from the Tempe Public Library’s new OneClickdigital service.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the John Wayne version of the film. Honestly, the B Westerns of the 50s-70s are the reason why I thought I didn’t like Westerns, despite my childhood affection for The Lone Ranger TV show. The 1969 version of True Grit has been (probably undeservedly) lumped in with those movies. My attitude toward modern Westerns is much different and, considering that I really like the Coen brothers when they’re being serious, the 2010 film version was a slam-dunk for my favor. What caught me unaware was Mattie Ross.

I had no idea that the main character of the story was a 14-year-old girl. Further, I didn’t realize that the book is written from Mattie’s first person POV. I hate to just be sickeningly positive, but I like Westerns. I like frontier women. Why had no one told me about this novel?

I did still have one reservation. Mattie Ross is seen as a tom-boy. From my notes on a book called Jo’s Girls (which I’ve since set aside and never posted about), I conjectured the following theory:

I’ve never like tomboy stories due to two reasons: 1.) Tomboys are usually trouble-making brats. It seems that girls can be virtuous and girly or disrespectful terrors. 2.) Not only do girls grow out of being tom boys (something that doesn’t bother me too much), but they seem to have to regain their virtue through hardship.

In general, there’s no middle ground. I relate to these characters no more than I do uber-girly characters.

Mattie is, thankfully, different. Is she a trouble -maker? Yes, but she has reason. She wants vengeance. If Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing says, “O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace,” Mattie would say, “I will eat his heart; be sure of it.” She shrewdly takes stock of her resources and hires Rooster to help her. She could have left it at that, but she doesn’t. She insists on accompanying him and, God willing, shooting Tom Chaney herself.  Sure, Mattie has hardships to overcome, but she remains exactly herself. “I never had the time to get married,” she says at the end of the book, “but it is nobody’s business if I am married or not married. I care nothing for what they say… A woman with brains and a frank tongue and one sleeve pinned up and an invalid mother to care for is at some disadvantage.  Although I will say, I could have had two or three old, untidy men around here who had their eyes fastened on my bank. No, thank you.”

The audio book was read well by Donna Tartt, a Mississippi writer.  She also provides an afterword about her history with the novel, a book passed from one female family member to the next and often loaned but rarely returned. Thankfully, I’m currently in research-mode. If I were in writing-mode, my Nebraska characters would sound like Arkansas characters. I’m very prone to picking up Southern-isms.

The 2010 movie is faithful to the book and full of great performances and beautiful Roger Deakins cinematography.

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