True Grit ~ A Capsule Book Review

True Grit ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

Mattie Ross is the first-person narrator of Charles Portis’s novel, True Grit. She is a fourteen-year-old Arkansas girl whose father is murdered by a drunken hooligan named Tom Chaney (an alias) in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1870. Mattie is old beyond her years and knows how to take care of herself in a man’s world. She sets out to seek justice, to avenge the murder of her father, but she’s going to need some help.

When Mattie is advised that a man named Rooster Cogburn is the toughest of the U.S. marshals, she decides he is the right man for the job. She will pay him one hundred dollars, a formidable sum for 1870, to go into the Navajo Nation (Kansas) to bring Tom Chaney back to Fort Smith so she can have the satisfaction of seeing him hang. She will not back down for any reason until she gets what she wants. Danger on the trail, hardship and discomfort, mean nothing to her.

Rooster Cogburn is a crusty old soul who loves his liquor and has been known, on occasion, to be on the wrong side of the law, but he has a streak of decency, which Mattie soon discovers. He will do what’s right, even if he has to resort to extreme measures. He is the perfect complement to Mattie’s character.

In Fort Smith, before departing on their quest, Mattie and Rooster meet LaBoeuf, a swaggering Texas ranger who is also on the trail of Tom Chaney. He and Rooster try to leave Mattie behind, but they soon discover they are no match for her determination.

Mattie, Rooster and LaBoeuf have their setbacks on the trail of Tom Chaney, including winter weather, but Rooster, even in a drunken stupor, knows what he’s doing, knows the land, and knows how to get what, or who, he’s after. Tom Chaney is, after all, a little man and not very bright. He has joined up with a band of outlaws known as the Ned Pepper Gang, notorious for having recently robbed a train.

True Grit is an American classic Western adventure that might be read and appreciated by all age groups. I first read it when I was in college and, since my copy had long-ago fallen by the wayside, I bought it from Amazon and read it again (considerably more expensive the second time I bought it). It was first published in 1968 and was soon after made into a movie with John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. It was again made into a movie in 2010, in a version by the Coen brothers that more closely follows the novel.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

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