by Charles Portis
Published by Overlook TP
4 Out of 5 Stars
I recently reread this book for a book club meeting and was just as struck by Portis's prose as I was the first time I read it. The movie version (which I watched repeatedly as a teenager) is surprisingly faithful to the book's narrative.
The story of the headstrong (sometimes obnoxiously so) Mattie's quest to kill the coward Tom Chaney is every bit as entertaining to me now as it was then. Of course, the real star of the book is the brutish and brash Rooster Cogburn, the U. S. Marshal Mattie hires to help her track down Chaney, who shot her father in cold blood. In the contrast between Mattie and Rooster is the contrast between the rapidly disappearing uncivilized frontier, as well as the strong, hard-bitten men and women it produced, and the introduction of societal mores and conveniences. Despite this contrast, there is a stubbornness in Mattie and Rooster that is recognized and respected by each.
Portis's use of language is stripped of "fluff" and moves the story along brusquely, but not at the sacrifice of character or plot development. The dialogue is often unexpectedly hilarious and, as an Arkansan, it's also refreshing to read about an Arkansas that is not that of the stereotyped backwoods full of rednecks and outhouses. The historical details are accurate (including Fort Smith's famous "hanging judge" Judge Parker) and paint a vivid portrait of frontier life in Arkansas.