The ultimate Portis: for the first time in one collector's volume, the complete fiction and collected nonfiction of the author of True Grit
Summer reading recommendation in THE WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, and THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL
"Charles Portis is one of the great pure pleasures available in American literature." —Ron Rosenbaum
"Like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man, Charles Portis’s True Grit captures the naïve elegance of the American voice." —Jonathan Lethem
"No living Southern writer captures the spoken idioms of the South as artfully as Portis does." —Donna Tartt
"His fiction is the funniest I know." —Roy Blount, Jr.
Twice adapted as a film, first in a version starring John Wayne and then by the Coen Brothers, True Grit is a wonder of novelistic perfection, told in the unforgettable voice of 14-year-old Mattie Ross as she sets out to avenge her murdered father in a quest that brings her out of her native Arkansas and into the wilds of the Choctaw Nation of the 1870s. One of the great literary Westerns, it is also a novel that has invited comparison with The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Portis's deadpan debut novel Norwood (1966) is, like True Grit, the story of a quest, though here the stakes are far lower: an auto mechanic from Texas embarks on a madcap journey to New York City to try and recover $70 owed to him from an Army buddy.
A book that according to Roy Blount Jr. “no one should die without having read,” The Dog of the South (1979) is yet a third saga of pursuit, this time all the way to Central America. Ray Midge is on the road looking for the man who has run off with his car (and of somewhat less interest to him, his wife.)
Masters of Atlantis (1985) conjures the fictional cult of Gnomonism and takes an uproarious plunge into the dark heart of conspiratorial thinking and schismatic in-fighting.
Gringos (1991), set in Mexico, follows an expatriate ex-Marine in his search to find a UFO hunter gone missing in the Yucatan, amid a supporting cast of archaeologists, drug-addled hippie millenarians, and the son of the “bravest dog in all Mexico.”
A generous gathering of the nonfiction reveals Portis's skills as a reporter, above all in his coverage of the Civil Rights Movement; his appreciation of Arkansas history and landscape, as in “The Forgotten River”; and his poignancy as a family memoirist, on display in his recollection “Combinations of Jacksons.”
About the Author
Charles Portis (1933–2020) is the author of five novels, a handful of short stories, a play, and several essays, along with journalism written early in his career. His debut novel, Norwood, was published in 1966 and was made into a movie in 1970. His second and best-known novel, True Grit, has been twice adapted for the screen, most recently by the Coen brothers in 2010; in 2013 it was named a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Library Selection.
Jay Jennings is Senior Editor at the Oxford American, having formerly been a writer for Sports Illustrated and a features editor at Tennis magazine. His book Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City was published in 2010. A native of Little Rock and a longtime friend of Portis, he is the editor of Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany (2012) and the co-author (with Graham Gordy) of an as-yet-unproduced film adaptation of Portis’s novel The Dog of the South.
“A new volume by the Library of America, edited by the Arkansas journalist Jay Jennings, gathers all these characters and more, collecting Portis’s five novels together with his short stories and some of his journalism, including the parody of an advice column that ran in this magazine. It’s absurdly fun to follow his oddballs and their odysseys, but something more than fun, too. Portis’s genius went beyond character in the strictly literary sense, to reveal something about moral character and many somethings about the character of this country.”—Casey Cep, The New Yorker
"It is hard to imagine a greater or more valuable pleasure-per-ounce package than the collected works of Charles Portis." — The New Republic
“Now the five novels, the memoir, and some short stories, essays and newspaper articles have been gathered together in one tidy volume edited by Jay Jennings, and installed where they belong, in the pantheon of American letters, the Library of America… The comedy is ineffable, inextricable from its context, the ready-for-anything American mindscape. As P.G. Wodehouse is to England and Flann O’Brien to Ireland, so Charles Portis is to America: a writer whose comedy strikes a celestial chord and whose characters, to quote Evelyn Waugh on Wodehouse, “live in their own universe like the characters of a fairy story.””—Katherine Powers, Wall Street Journal
“There won’t be a parade, but perhaps there should be.”—Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“A meticulously curated new compendium from the Library of America, which collects his five novels and assorted other works, allows for a fresh opportunity to reckon with his slippery, unsettled legacy … In one sense, a Library of America edition of Portis’s work is a kind of surprise ending. It’s tempting to point out the disjunction between the author’s fundamental outsider stance and his postmortem embrace by the institutional intelligentsia.” —The Washington Post