Friday, December 3, 2010

Cool quote...

..about the author of True Grit:

"Charles Portis could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he'd rather be funny." -- Roy Blount, Jr.

"Wharton will be looking for you."
"If he is not careful he will find me."
Donna Tartt, in her afterword to the movie tie-in edition:
Like Huckleberry Finn (or The Catcher in the Rye, or even the Bertie and Jeeves stories for that matter) True Grit is a monologue, and the great, abiding pleasure of it that compels the reader to return to it again and again is Mattie's voice. No living Southern writer captures the spoken idioms of the South as artfully as Portis does; but though in all his novels (including those set in the current day) Portis shows his deep understanding of place, True Grit also masters the more complicated subtleties of time. Mattie, having survived her youthful adventure, is recounting her story as an old woman, and Portis is such a genius of a literary mimic that the book reads less like a novel than a first-hand account: the Wild West of the 1870s, as recollected in a spinster's memory and filtered through the sedate sepia tones of the early 1900s. Mattie's narrative tone is naive, didactic, hard-headed, and completely lacking in self-consciousness - and, at times, unintentionally hilarious, rather in the manner of Daisy Ashford's The Young Visiters. And like The Young Visiters (which is largely delightful because it views the most absurd Victorian crotchets as obvious common sense), a great part of True Grit's charm is in Mattie's blasé view of frontier America. Shootings, stabbings, and public hangings are recounted frankly and flatly, and often with rather less warmth than the political and personal opinions upon which Mattie digresses. She quotes scripture; she explains and gives advice to the reader; her observations are often overlaid with a decorative glaze of Sunday-school piety. And her own very distinctive voice (blunt, unsentimental, yet salted with parlour platitudes) echoes throughout the reported speech of all the other characters - lawmen and outlaws alike - to richly comic effect, as when Rooster remarks austerely of a young prisoner he has brought back alive to stand trial: "I should have put a ball in that boy's head instead of his collarbone. I was thinking about my fee. You will sometimes let money interfere with your notion of what is right."
Ed Park appreciation from "The Believer."


Tulkinghorn said...

Here's an interesting piece from Ed Park (the editor of The Believer, the snark-free literary magazine that's part of the Dave Eggers family of companies) that makes exactly the same claim, quoting Blount. "Dog of the South" sounds worth a peek.


When Roy Blount, Jr., says that Portis “could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he’d rather be funny,” he may be both remembering and forgetting True Grit, which for all its high spirits is organized along a blood meridian, fraught with ominous slaughter. Blood literally stains the book’s first and last sentences, and Rooster, though admirable in his tenacity and his paternal protectiveness of Mattie, has a half-hidden history of trigger-happy law enforcement and less defensible acts of carnage.

David Chute said...

First few pages strongly recall "Days of Heaven." Mattie as an elderly woman reciting what she went through as a child. First test for the Coens: What will the narrator's voice sound like?

Tulkinghorn said...

First test:

Will there be a narrator?