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.