“True Grit” by Charles Portis ★★★★

True Grit landscape

Interesting fictional narrative account of 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who leaves her Arkansas home and heads toward Oklahoma and the Choctaw Indian Territory during an 1870s winter, searching for the “cowardly” Tom Chaney, the man who robbed and killed her father in cold blood.  It is her intention to capture him and bring him back to Arkansas where justice will be served.  To help her accomplish this feat, she hires the meanest federal marshal she can find:  the rarely sober Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, a man with a dark past, a bad reputation, and a lot of enemies.

“There is no law west of St. Louis and no God west of Fort Smith.”

True Grit Fort Smith federal courthouse

Federal Courthouse, Fort Smith, Arkansas c.1872-96 

Mattie is a truly interesting character.  She is incredibly hardheaded and expects to get her way no matter the situation.  She doesn’t give an inch.  I think she often succeeds because she is intelligent, tenacious, doesn’t care what other people think, has absolutely no self doubts, and is a master at wearing people down.  From the get-go after her father’s death, she is making decisions for her family, handling the money, telling her grieving mother not to sign anything until she returns home, directing her family attorney on which documents he should draw up, what they should say, etc.  She doesn’t ask his advice, she just tells him what to do.  She even steamrolls Rooster.  She is infuriating but her audacity is hilarious.  At 14, she already is set in her opinions and isn’t afraid to share them–and is able to back them up with scripture.  She’s a hoot and a brat.

“I will go further and say that all cats are wicked, though often useful.  Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces?  Some preachers will say, well, that is superstitious ‘clap trap.’  My answer is this:  Preacher, go to your bible and read Luke 8:26-33.”  –Mattie Ross

They are joined by a Texas Ranger, Mr. LaBoeuf, who has spent months himself trying to track down Chaney.  He and Rooster both grouse about Mattie’s presence, but after several attempts to lose her, they inevitably resign themselves to the fact that she’ll be with them when they capture their man.  In the end, they make a good team and rely on each other to get out of multiple dangerous situations.

“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.”  –Mattie Ross


After their journey together and an exciting climax to the story, I was surprised by what was, to me, a sad ending to the tale.  It stirs up questions and emotions and what ifs and whys.  I think their adventure was just the tip of the iceberg of why this book is considered a classic.

True Grit by Charles Portis

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