Westerns aren't really my thing. The exception to this is, possibly, the "weird western" genre I've recently discovered, but I haven't read enough of those to make a solid determination. However, I can see why westerns do appeal to so many people. They are, essentially, fantasy without the fantasy. Instead of wands and shooting spells or slaying dragons or hunting down evil wizards, you've got six guns, pistols fired at ten paces, stopping train robberies, and hunting down the bad guys in the Wild, Wild West. Maybe with a few saloon girls thrown in for good measure. True Grit does not contain saloon girls but it does include a quest for revenge, some pistols, outlaws, and even mention of a train robbery, though the robbery itself isn't on the page.
This book, which follows Mattie Ross on a quest to avenge her father by capturing his killer and seeing him hang, was The Deliberate Reader digital book club selection for July, and it certainly did force me to read outside my genre. That said, the book just didn't agree with me, which is unfortunate, because I can see why so man people like the book, just like I can see why so many people like the genre. I just didn't.
This has all the makings of a good story, and one that I should like. A fourteen-year-old's father is killed and she essentially runs away from home to avenge him, recruiting the most hardened federal marshal she can to help her and taking off on a pony called Little Blackie, and then forging ahead on her own when the marshal and a Texas Ranger take off without her, until she can prove that she's going to keep going with them, no matter what. This is spunk. This is, I might dare say, "true grit," even though the title itself doesn't refer to Mattie (or does it????) but to the marshal Rooster Cogburn instead. But there was one thing that really held me back from liking this book, and it held me back in a big way. What was the thing? Well...it was the writing.
The story is told as an account given by Mattie long after the events she's chronicling, after most of the cast of characters has passed away. But having the story told in such a way, so removed from the events it actually relates, has the effect of removing the emotion from the writing. Scanning the reviews for this book, it looks like I might be in the minority here in a big way, but I found this book extremely flat and emotionless. The style fit the time period in which the story took place very well, being both succinct and purple in turns, and with a sense that Mattie has a bit of a wry and sometimes black sense of humor looking back at her tale. But still, it overall came across as flat and unemotional; the few bits of humor couldn't make up for the fact that a scene with a character being trapped in a pit full of rattlesnakes, inches away from plummeting to their death, didn't manage to raise my heart rate even a little bit or make me wonder if said character would survive. And if the emotion is lacking to the point where caring about the characters is difficult...well, then you've lost me.
Oh well. Maybe next time.
2 stars out of 5.