Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gritty Reading On My Kindle

My first reading experience on my new Kindle was a success, thanks in large part to Mattie Ross, the narrator and main character in True Grit by Charles Portis. The book came to me for a number of reasons: it was available right away through our library system; I had seen and liked the movie with Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges; and True Grit is an adult novel with a child (fourteen-year-old) main character. I am always interested in adult books with child protagonists.

Ah, but does True Grit have a fourteen-year-old main character? In reality, Mattie is a middle-aged woman telling the story of something that happened to her, something she did, when she was young. This is one of the classic differences between a children's book and an adult book with a child main character. With a children's or YA book, the main character is in the midst of living a childhood or teen experience. A book that involves an adult recalling a childhood event and coloring that recollection with adult knowledge is an adult book. And boy does Mattie bring in her adult knowledge. While the story takes place in the 1870s, Mattie offers up her thoughts on early twentieth century politics, her changes in religious thinking, and her attitudes as a result of long life experience. While True Grit could easily end up on high school summer reading lists as a bridge book between YA and adult literature, I think it's unlikely that it will ever evolve into a YA novel the way To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye have because there's no doubt that it is an adult telling this story.

Fantastic voice, by the way. Excellent, well rounded characters. Rooster Cogburn, a secondary character, gets enormous amounts of attention from readers and viewers of the two movie adaptations, but consider the Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf. He is both an elitist and a down and dirty lawman. Many of the outlaws are both good for nothing and sad.

Oh, and a great sense of place, too. Thematically what's going on here? Perhaps we're dealing with the question of whether tough, even unpleasant, human beings can step up to the plate at least once in their lives.

This is a marvelously well-balanced book, with all the elements given equal attention.

Plot Project: One might say that this is a give-a-girl a problem story, because Mattie is out to avenge her father's murder and has to overcome various obstacles--finding a man with grit to assist her, coming up with the money to pay him, dealing with outlaws, etc. etc. However, you could just as easily say that this plot is all about a disturbance to a character's world because the story opens with us finding out that Mattie's father has been murdered, a world-altering disturbance. Mattie, by the way, is no slouch in the true grit department. The plot's evolution is all related to this powerful character's response to the first disturbance and to every step she takes thereafter.

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