True Grit is a spectacular western that is full of heart with genuinely delightful characters that you instantly connect with. Charles Portis has created a wonderful tale of the west that will go down in my all-time favourites.
“Fill your hand you son of a bitch!”
True Grit follows a young girl full of ‘grit’, setting out to bring her father’s murderer to justice. Mattie Ross in the year 1878 is searching for Tom Chaney, the man who worked for her father then shot him. Mattie is 14 years old but is a fantastic character with as much gravitas as quippy remarks. She is straight to the point and one tough girl who does not mess around and will not rest until Tom Chaney has either been shot by her dragoon pistol or hung from the noose.
Mattie searches for a U.S. Marshall to assist her with the capture of Tom Chaney and eventually finds one in the rugged and experienced Rooster Cogburn, a Marshall who is known more for how many outlaws he has put bullets into rather than delivered alive. Cogburn’s relationship with Mattie is instantly enjoyable and they have some fantastic dialogue, Cogburn’s no-nonsense approach almost a match for Mattie’s hardy outlook. Once Mattie hires her whiskey-loving Marhsall she meets another man on Chaney’s trail – a Texas Ranger called Laboeuf. Laboeuf is of a different disposition to Mattie and Cogburn, with alternate plans for Chaney.
“Who is the best marshal they have?’
The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, ‘I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don’t enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have.’
I said, ‘Where can I find this Rooster?’”
In no time the three ride out on their quest to bring in the outlaw. I had never read a western before 2020, but this was my fourth and I just don’t know what it is about the genre but the writing is magical. There is a poetic and lyrical style to these stories, and especially in True Grit the dialogue is close to genius. It never feels overdone at all and the language is extremely compelling. It has an honesty to it that I have rarely found in other styles of storytelling.
Also, it has plenty of revolvers and six-shooters and repeating rifles and horse rides over the plain. True Grit is packed with everyone’s favourite and typical western components and feels extraordinarily realistic. The relationship between the three justice-seekers is well-done, the description and scene setting is beautiful and honest and the plot is simple but very fun to read.
“You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God. You cannot earn that or deserve it.”
It is a short story at just over 230 pages long, I was able to read it in an evening. It is easy going and natural and I can see this being a feel-good read of mine for many years to come. If you’ve seen the film(s) of True Grit you’ll soon see that they are extremely faithful to the book. No wonder the films were so good if they had some awesome material to use. Both John Wayne and Jeff Bridges are sublime as Rooster Cogburn.
“That’s bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”
5/5 – A superb story of justice, the resilience of a 14-year-old girl and cowboy classics. SO easy to read and so easy to enjoy, I would recommend this to everyone who reads! Cowboy hats off to Charles Portis.
Buy True Grit by Charles Portis