I've been meaning to read True Grit for a long time. I've seen both movies and had a copy (the one pictured above, a surprisingly restrained movie tie-in from 2010) sitting around. Finally, my bluff was called when my friend Kristin chose it for her book club this month.
What was I thinking? Why did I wait so long?
This is a fine book, a thumping good read. Mattie Ross is 14 years old at the end of the 19th century, and her father's been murdered. Mattie is bound and determined that she is going to track down his killer and bring him to justice. She knows she needs help--she's a very smart, practical girl--so she inquires as to the availability of U.S. Marshals and chooses the meanest one, Rooster Cogburn. And off they go, accompanied by the vainglorious Mr. LeBoeuf (pronounced La Beef), a Texas lawman after the same criminal, for different reasons.
It sounds like a cute setup, but it's not a cute book. Funny as can be, but also terribly serious. Mattie is telling the story from her present day as an elderly woman. Reading her narration recalling this chapter of her life reminded me a lot of talking with my 92-year-old father. Her narration is conversational, but also oddly formal--she uses few contractions--and she often adds details as she remembers them that are neither here nor there to the main story, but can be very entertaining:
"On his deathbed he asked for a priest and became a Catholic. That was his wife's religion. It was his own business and none of mine. If you had sentenced one hundred and sixty men to death and seen around eighty of them swing, then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need of some stronger medicine than the Methodists could make."
Mattie's point in choosing Rooster Cogburn is that she's looking for a man with "true grit" to handle this difficult and dangerous task. But what she doesn't seem to understand is just how much true grit she herself has. Her determination and quick thinking make her a force to be reckoned with, as the two lawmen find out.
It's a good thing, too, because as it turns out, after this adventure has ended, grit is what she'll need to get by with the rest of her life. The ending, which I won't detail, is sobering, and yet finishes the book properly. It's also sobering to reflect on Mattie telling this story so many years later and wonder at how reliable her narration may or may not have been.
A great read, a fun read (mostly--warning for people who hate snakes: there are quite a batch of them), and, I bet, worth a rereading sometime down the road.