I just finished listening to Charles Portis’s True Grit and was then pleasantly surprised by a bit of back matter — an essay by novelist Donna Tartt who also narrated the audio book. All three were excellent — the Portis novel, Tartt’s narration, and her essay. The Coen brother’s recent film version of the novel brought quite a bit of attention to Portis who evidently had been a bit overlooked in recent years. I’d not been aware of him at all and once I read that the Coen brothers did the movie because they loved the book so much I was eager to read the book myself.
In her essay “The Great, Abiding Pleasure of True Grit” (originally written as an introduction for a 2005 edition of the book), Tartt describes first reading the book as a child and then again and again and again as she grew up along with others in her family. (Oddly, True Grit was one of the books recommended for “Young Men” in the infamous Wall Street Journal YA feature last week.) I enjoyed her explication of the different characters, but I particularly appreciated her consideration of the book’s connection and context to other well-known books.
Like Huckleberry Finn (or The Catcher in the Rye, or even the Bertie and Jeeves stories for that matter), True Grit is a monologue, and the great, abiding pleasure of it that compels the reader to return to it again and again is Mattie’s voice.
She even references one of my favorite books, Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters.
Mattie’s narrative tone is naive, didactic, hard-headed, and completely lacking in self-consciousness—and, at times, unintentionally hilarious, rather in the manner of Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters. And like The Young Visiters (which is largely delightful because it views the most absurd Victorian crotchets as obvious common sense), a great part of True Grit’s charm is in Mattie’s blasé view of frontier America. Shootings, stabbings, and public hangings are recounted frankly and flatly, and often with rather less warmth than the political and personal opinions upon which Mattie digresses.
She also manages to get in Moby Dick, Buster Keaton,The Wizard of Oz, and Roald Dahl. Highly recommended.