Friday, May 17, 2013

Roadkill Review: True Grit by Charles Portis

I’ve been spending a lot of time out west lately, at least inside my head. I’m currently working on a western for the next Zelmer Pulp release. I’ve also been doing a little research and toying with the idea of trying to write a western novel.

Anyway, while I was trawling through my bookshelves, (for bookshelves read: that big pile of boxes in the garage) looking for a  civil war reference book that I last remember seeing two house moves ago, I came across my copy of True Grit by Charles Portis. 
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 40 years, you will have heard of this novel. You may not have read it, but the chances are you have seen one of the two film adaptations. My mom loved “The Duke” and Henry Hathaway’s 1969 version loomed large in my childhood. More recently and in line with the current Hollywood trend of refusing any original ideas, the Coen Brothers re-made it. In doing so they once again posed the tricky question of how many Coen brothers does it take to write a screen play?  The answer of course is two - one to read the novel aloud and the other to type it into a computer (also see No Country For Old Men.) Now to my mind that's not necessarily worthy of an Oscar nomination, but in respect to True Grit it is probably a good thing; their movie sticks a lot closer to the book than Hathaway’s did. I guess a slightly happier ending was the order of the day back in 1969, although it's strange that Hathaway saw fit to kill off one major character who survived in the book.
For those rock dwellers amongst you, True Grit is a simple story about the murder of Frank Ross by one of his hired hands, and of his daughter’s fight to bring the muderer, Tom Chaney to justice. There are two things that put Portis’ novel on a different level to the thousands other western tales out there with similar themes. The first is his 14 year old protagonist, Matti Ross. The book is written from her POV and rarely have I ever come across such a brilliantly drawn female lead. Portis somehow manages to make her both smart and neive, feisty and venerable, all at once. The only other character I have read that comes close is Daniel Woodrell’s Ree in Winter’s Bone. The second stand-out for me is the the narrative itself. It's a wonderful mix of old west colloquialisms and wry humor, overlaid with some great period dialogue.
While the Coen Brothers managed to give a much better visual rendering of the book than Hathaway did, neither movie really comes close to capturing the charm of the written work.  And as Lucky Ned Pepper said,“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”


No comments:

Post a Comment

Got something on your mind? Well have at it.