True Grit – Charles Portis (book and new movie)

February 9, 2011 Bookclub, Reading Nook, Review 17

Title: True Grit
Author: Charles Portis
Published: 1968; Pages: 224
Genre: Fiction, Western?
Rating: 2.5/5

True Grit is Mattie Ross’s tale about how she left home at the age of fourteen to seek revenge upon her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney. She enlists the help of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and  together with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf they travel from Fort Smith, Arkansas into the wilds of the Oklahoma Indian Territory. Set in the late 1800s.

Why I read it: Work book club, though no one finished the book in time so we didn’t meet. Again. #fail.

Thoughts in general: At the back of my copy, there is an afterward by Donna Tartt who is obviously very enamored by the book. As is all her family and everyone she lends the book to. I, on the other hand, didn’t get it. I ended the last paragraph thinking, “Huh” [with a period, question mark, and exclamation point] and so was very curious as to why this Tartt lady loved the book so much. I’m trying to put my finger on just what it is about the book that I didn’t get—the premise is incredibly simple and seems as though it would make a classic story, the characters all have lots of potential, and there’s even a great deal of action sequences.

So, what gives? The narrator, Mattie, retells her story years after the events have occurred which creates a great amount of distance in her narrative. There were times when I laughed out loud at her thoughts and overall I could tell that there was a fair amount of dry wit in the writing, but the distance and resulting lack of emotion was too much for me to overcome. The characters had great potential–especially Rooster Cogburn and LaBoeuf (pronounced LaBeef), but they fell flat with Mattie’s dry storytelling.

Bottom Line: Because this one has been made into two movies and Bookfool loved it, I feel like I should keep it around to try out in a few years. Afterall, it is short enough to re-read fairly quickly. Maybe I need to read it with a different tone in mind, or maybe…I don’t know. This reading, though? Just didn’t do it for me and I closed the book hardly caring about what had happened. Don’t you hate that?

The only passage I took the time to mark:
“The marshals were unloading the prisoners and poking them sharply along with their Winchester repeating rifles. The men were all chained together like fish on a string. They were mostly white men but there were also some Indians and half-breeds and Negroes. It was awful to see but you must remember that these chained beasts were murderers and robbers and train wreckers and bigamists and counterfeiters, some of the most wicked men in the world. They had ridden the ‘hoot-owl trail’ and tasted the fruits of evil and now justice had caught up with them to demand payment. You must pay for everything in this world one way or another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God. You cannot earn that or deserve it” (40).

Thoughts on the movie remake directed by Joel and Ethan Coen: first, I love those Coen brothers. Love them. When Scott and I watched the preview for this movie months ago, I had two remarks: 1. Bad Ass! 2. Oscar Movie. After seeing the movie I can say that at least one of those remarks came true. I enjoyed the movie much more than the book, which is highly unusual for me, but mostly it was just OK. The tone that should have come across stronger in the book–the dry wit and frankness of Mattie Ross–was much more evident in the movie. Mostly I was entertained but there were parts that dragged a bit and there may have even been a few parts where I struggled to keep my eyes open (shhhh!). Scott, though, hated the movie. We have very different tastes in movies, it’s true, but for him to openly express his disdain with such force is uncommon. When it comes to shoot em up Coen Brothers movie, I’d go for No Country for Old Men.

The preview does make the movie look fantastic, though!

Have you read the book or watched the movie (original or remake)? Can you tell me what I’m missing??

Moooooving On!

I am an Amazon Associate and if you purchase True Grit or any other Amazon product through this review I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no additional cost to you. Thanks!

17 Responses to “True Grit – Charles Portis (book and new movie)”

  1. rhapsodyinbooks

    My husband loved the movie, but if you told him a total stinker was by the Coen Brothers, he would come out and say, “Wow, that was great!” (I suspect him of preconceived judgment!) I thought the movie was OKAY but not WOW, but I did like the little girl Mattie better than the Kim Darby version.

  2. Laura

    Sorry you had a blah feeling after finishing the book–definitely annoying! Since the hubs really wants to see the movie, I think we’ll probably venture out soon while it is still in the theaters…if it still is :)

  3. samantha.1020

    I’m going to have to admit that I’ve never heard of the book or the movie. And I can’t say that either sound like anything I would be interested in. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts though :)

  4. softdrink

    I loved the movie, but I’ve never read the book, and I never saw the original movie, either. And it had been a long time since I’d been to the movies, so I was probably easy to impress. :-D

  5. Melody

    I loooved the movie, esp. the dialogue–it just felt so fresh and unique and creative. I really liked the book, but probably mostly because I loved the movie.

    It was the distinctly drawn characters and the dry humor that captured me–I was giggling and smiling nearly the entire time. Sad you didn’t enjoy it! Ah well, such is life. Onto the next book, yeah?

  6. Trish

    *Bermuda – I’m sure the movie will continue to play until afer the Academy Awards are over! Hope you like it.

    *Rhapsody – I hadn’t seen the original so had nothing to compare the movie to. Thought the casting was great! And yes, I have to admit having high hopes for Coen Brothers movies!

    *Laura – I’m sure this one will be in the theaters for at least a few more weeks–at least until the Oscars are over. Hope you guys like it!

    *Amanda – Think that was my last attept at book club–now that I only average two books a month I don’t want to use one of those reads up on something I’m only half interested in. Such a bummer.

    *Samantha.1020 – The original movie had John Wayne but I had never heard of it either. Think the book kind of went out of print until fairly recently? You’re not missing much. ;)

    *Kailana – I’m giving up on book club for the time being. :( It does make me sad!

    *Softdrink – I really wanted to love this one and I think I might have liked it more had Scott not vehemently hated it. Glad you did, though!

    *Melody – So I’m taking it you read the book after you saw the movie? I think that might have worked better for me, too. I wasn’t really sure how to read the book and I suspect if I knew it was supposed to be so dry I probably would have found more of the humor. Glad you liked both!

  7. Trisha

    Random comments:

    Yay for No Country for Old Men!
    I read True Grit in grade school and remember nothing.
    I could not stand Fargo.
    Loved Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
    Sometimes movies are better than books, but should I feel bad for saying that?

    And that’s the end of the randomness. :)

  8. Bookfool

    We still haven’t seen the new Coen brothers movie, but it looks a little closer to the book, already, just from viewing the trailer. It’s snowing; the land looks more like Eastern Oklahoma than Colorado or California (but it’ll be interesting to see if that holds true — aspen trees were a big hint that the old version wasn’t filmed in OK).

    I do think I was primed to love the book, since True Grit has long been one of my favorite movies, but I didn’t find it emotionally detached at all. Maybe that’s partly because I knew the characters, already? Hard to say, but I thought it was witty and much better than I expected. I particularly loved the part about the rat writ. You can’t serve papers on a rat. Haha. Great metaphor.

  9. nomadreader (Carrie)

    I really enjoyed the Coen Brothers film version, which surprised me. I’m not a big fan of westerns (or didn’t think I was), but I loved the film. It felt almost dystopian to me. The danger was pervasive like a good thriller, but I enjoyed the acting and character interaction immensely. It’s certainly not a film for everyone. I have no desire to read the book or see the older film version, but I’m still pleasantly surprised with the new one (and I fell asleep several times during No Country, which I found to alternately violent and boring.)

  10. Stephanie

    Based on the passage you marked, this character has an interesting voice. I’ve never read ths novel.

    I did see the original True Grit, and though I’m not a big John Wayne fan, I really liked it.

    It sounds like the new movie isn’t as good as the Coens’ other work, maybe it is meant to be more mainstream? I love the Coens, especially O Brother, Where Art Thou, Fargo, Barton Fink, and Burn After Reading.

    http://laughingstars.net

  11. TopherGL

    Oh my gosh you didn’t love the movie?! YOU ARE DEAD TO ME!

    No, just kidding. But seriously, Coen brothers and Jeff freaking Bridges just makes me want to shoot people with confetti and pass around drinks. Or something.

    More seriously, I don’t know that I love all Coen brothers’ movies, but Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors, and I’d probably love any movie with him in it. Like if he were in a Barney movie or that new Justin Bieber film, I’d totally go see it and love it.

  12. Trish

    *Trisha – I love the random comments–my favorites! ;) Sometimes I feel that movies are better than books, too–some just lend themselves better to the big screen!

    *Lu – Ha! I haven’t read The Coen Brothers’ poetry but will stay away from it! I like O Brother, Where Art Thou? but it took me a few viewings to actually finish it!

    *Bookfool – Hubby and I saw a movie recently where there were mountains 30 miles outside of Dallas. Living 30 miles outside of Dallas we both laughed hysterically at the geographical mistake. Your thoughts on True Grit really make me want to revisit the book some day. I want to like it as much as everyone else…just didn’t. :-/

    *Nomadreader – I thought the acting was great in this remake of True Grit. No Country for Old Men is *very* violent, even for me, but something about it caught my attention!

    *Stephanie – The narrator does have a very distinct voice–I think my problem is just that I didn’t know how to “read” it. I haven’t seen Barton Fink but need to check it out! I also liked The Big Lebowski.

    *Topher – I liked the movie, but no…didn’t love it. I’m finding I’m kind of hard to please these days (especially with my uncomfortable tummy situation!). Love Jeff Bridges, too–he was great in The Big Lebowski!

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