True Grit: The Nitty Gritty Book Review

I decided to read this book after I watched the Academy Awards a little while ago. John Wayne received an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role in the 1969 version of True Grit, and the version that came out last year was nominated for ten Oscars. I have not seen either version, and decided to read the book before checking them out. Westerns aren’t what I normally read, but I have enjoyed reading Louis L’Amour in the past.

The book can be summarized by the first sentence on the first page: “People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day”. Mattie Ross is after the man who shot her kind-hearted father in Arkansas, and will stop at nothing until he gets what he deserves. The book is written in a matter-of-fact tone, with the spunk of a stubborn young girl who won’t take no for an answer. She tells the story as an intelligent spinster, looking back on events that would stay with her for the rest of her life.

Mattie travels to Fort Smith where her father was killed, and looks to the U.S. Marshalls for help in avenging the murderous Tom Chaney. She find the true grit she is looking for in one-eyed “Rooster” Cogburn. Shortly after she finds him she is confronted by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf who has been after Chaney for killing a man in Texas. LaBoeuf and Cogburn agree to go after Chaney, but Mattie is not to be left behind. She stubbornly follows them until they reluctantly agree to let her come along.

The journey to avenge her father’s life isn’t quite what she pictured – traveling long hours on a horse, listening to drunken men talk, and sleeping on rough ground is hard work. I loved how Cogburn calls Mattie “baby sister” and seems to grow fond of her in a rough sort of way. The action-packed ending had me shivering a little bit as Mattie finds herself wedged in a pit with bats brushing up against her from the cave below, and the only thing within reach is a corpse with rattlers coming out the chest looking for a snack. Not so much a fan of snakes.

Although I enjoyed the book, I found the straight-forward narration a little emotionally lacking and dry sometimes. I loved the interactions between Mattie and Rooster, with the stories he told her and the way she looked toward him for help. Not a book I would read again, but worth reading once.

The Legend of Tommy Jo Sanchez, By: Billie Bierer – Book Review

Westerns are a study in archetypes that are almost entirely unique to American civilization. Wanderers on horseback with Stetson hats and gleaming weapons at their sides, these Men With No Name sweep in like knights errant, protecting towns from both villains, and the encroachment of civilization.

In “The Legend of Tommy Jo Sanchez”, our hero is not John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, nor any of the myriad characters who might be found in the canon of Louis L’Amour. TJ Sanchez is a woman, as passionate as her male counterparts are steely. However, TJ does exactly as these men do – stands as a symbol, representing the spirit of the Old West.

Refusing to follow in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a prostitute, TJ steals a horse and sets out for the storied town of Tombstone, AZ, set on building her future. It is a harsh wilderness, one that is deeply inhospitable, even to men, but in spite of the wild Apache, those who seek her for revenge, and her own fiery temper, TJ finds a rough sort of family among the leathery cowboys, gamblers, and prostitutes. She conjures a plan that will allow her to live life on her own terms, by her own code of honor. A talented poker dealer, TJ – with the help of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp – sets up a high stakes poker game to draw some big rollers to her table, hoping to win enough to buy their saloon, so that she can secure her own future and look after the girls working there, as well.

This independent sense of justice is not a theme that is foreign in the Western genre. Individual law, whether maintained solely for personal benefit, or for altruistic reasons, is the hallmark of an untamed era, before the sprawl of advancement swept across the arid lands, bringing with it impersonal morality and enforced order. These “knightly” figures are respected, or feared. They live by their own wits and on their own conditions. Within them lie the perplexities that is the Old West – the noble integrity, and the unflinching ruthlessness. TJ Sanchez is all of these things, and must be to survive. She uncompromisingly demands respect, even from the men who seek to woo her. Fortunately, TJ has her share of flaws, otherwise she would be intolerable, and impossible to like as a character. her erratic temper, thick-headedness, stubbornness, and her tendency to run away any time there’s a problem, make her absolutely infuriating, but give her layers that are relatable.

A most notable aspect of “The Legend of Tommy Jo Sanchez” is that the villain of the piece is also a woman. As like to TJ as day is to night, the finely dressed, well-off gambler from Louisiana is drawn to TJ Sanchez’s high stakes game, and quickly shows that although she is equal to TJ in strength of character, she is far more ruthless, and willing to go to lengths unplumbed by her rival in order to get what she wants. Just as TJ Sanchez stands among her peers as a spirit of the Old West, Fannie is an excellent example of the intrusion of progression across the dusty plain. She is more aggressive, more political in her double-dealing. She’s too shiny and too new for Tombstone, AZ. She arrives, however, and she tries to steal those things that most explicitly typify the Old West.

“The Legend of Tommy Jo Sanchez” creates characters that are engaging, genuine, and worthy of the genre. They rub elbows with the likes of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Clara Barton, in Tombstone, AZ, gives it a sense of history. It is clear the author enjoyed doing her research, and the details bring the story to life. By way of critique, the book could benefit from an editor’s eye for grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors. However, “The Legend of Tommy Jo Sanchez” is an exciting read from a genre that receives little attention these days. It offers something to satisfy without following all of the usual tropes, and for that, it is truly unique.

The Lonesome Wild-West, A Book Review

The other day, I was talking to an acquaintance at the local coffee shop nearby. They were reading a book, and stopped to look out the window, and we began the subtleties, “nice weather,” etc. I asked if that was a good book and they held it up and said; “it’s okay, but I like Westerns, I thought I’d try this out, but if it doesn’t get better soon, I am going to chuck it,” and then they asked me if I knew of any good Westerns. “Yes, I do as a matter of fact,” so, I made a suggestion. Let’s talk as maybe you too might like to hear of this?

One of the best Western Books I’ve ever read, and one I’d very much recommend to you is a long read, nearly a week in your spare time, and well worthy of your attention, it’s a lot like reading Gone With the Wind, so you might think that it’s 850 plus pages makes for a real ass-flatener, you’d be mistaken to judge it as such. This is a book I do own and it sits upon my bookshelf as proof of my love of history and our Western US cultural ancestry. The name of the book is:

“Lonesome Dove: A Novel” by Larry McMurtry, Simon and Schuster Publishers, New York, NY, 2010, 864 pages, ISBN: 978-1439195260.

Much like Gone With the Wind, you could classify this as a love story, so not only does it share the long length, you might like that angle. It is of course also an adventure taking place on the untamed landscape of the frontier of the time. This book is often considered a Western Classic, and it is well labeled as such. This is a book in a series, and the name of the book is also the name of small town, if you can call it that by today’s standards where the tale takes place. It’s dusty, windy, and harsh, a place where the weak won’t well survive.

This old Western Town has all the right features of a Western setting; the saloon, prostitutes, rustlers, ranchers, settlers, Indians, criminal elements, and sheriff. There is drama, passion, intrigue, honor, and criminality. As conflicts arise, and things get thick, you begin to understand the way of life in this version of the wild-West, along with a nice history lesson as you go, but you get to wait to see how everything is resolved in further books, which you will desire to read after finishing this one. Please consider all this and think on it.