Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

Category: Western

True Grit by Charles Portis

I’d mainly heard of True Grit from my dad. See, he’s a big fan of both John Wayne and the Coen Brothers, so he was quite keen on both movie adaptations. When I got this as part of a bundle, I wasn’t sure how I’d find it, as until recently I hadn’t really read any westerns before Blood Meridian last month. I had heard good things about True Grit though, so I went in hopeful.

True Grit follows Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl who travels to Fort Ross upon hearing that her father has been shot and killed by his hired hand, Tom Chaney. Determined to avenge her father’s death, she hires Rooster Cogburn, a deputy marshal known for his meanness and quick trigger finger, to help her find Tom Chaney and bring him to justice, either by the hangman’s noose or at the end of a gun.
True Grit would be a fairly straightforward revenge story if it weren’t for the fact that Mattie has such a distinct and interesting voice. For a 14-year-old, she is strong-willed and no-nonsense, with a particularly good mind for business. It’s refreshing to see a character that in any other book set in the era would be meek and timid, and they’re powering on ahead, taking absolutely no shit from anyone. It gets her in trouble, because of course it does, but she’s all the more interesting for taking this strength/weakness to its logical conclusion.
The setting is definitely less bleak than the one presented by Blood Meridian, but the violence depicted stands out a lot more comparatively. It comes as more of a surprise when it does come, highlighted in particular by Mattie’s comparative naivety. It ends up being a mid-point between the sort of heroic cowboy narrative that my dad grew up with and the unrelenting “humanity is scum” viewpoint that Blood Meridian settles on. There are clear distinctions between who is “good” and who is “bad”, but there’s a definite moral flexibility that can be seen in the characters, especially Mattie’s reluctant travelling companions.

Despite my initial concerns, I found myself falling almost instantly in love with Mattie and her no-nonsense attitude. I would definitely give True Grit a read if you’re looking to try out the Western genre, as it seems to be a nice middle ground between unrelentingly bleak and entirely ignoring the negative aspects of Reconstruction America. 4.5/5

Next review: K-ON! Volume 2 by kakifly

Signing off,
Nisa.

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

So Blood Meridian took me longer to get through that I was hoping. Evidently audiobooks are not something that I get on with. I’ve been looking to read some of Cormac McCarthy’s ever since seeing the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, cliche as that may be. It was such an odd film that I was curious to see how much of that was the Coen Brothers’ direction and how much was from the original source material. But I got my hands on Blood Meridian first, so that will have to be my introduction to his works. 

Blood Meridian follows a runaway known as the Kid during his violent coming-of-age as a member of a group of scalp-hunters, headed by the infamous John Joel Glanton and the eerie and erudite Judge Holden. As part of the Glanton Gang, he is tasked with collecting the scalps of natives attacking settlements at the Mexico-USA border. 
Right, so something quick to start the review off: if violence is not your thing, then Blood Meridian is not for you, as it comes up startlingly often and usually in a great deal of detail. If I were to guess, I would say that the majority of the narrative can be filed into one of three things: an act of mass and/or out-of-proportion violence, travelling in some truly wonderful descriptions of the landscape, or sitting around the camp-fire listening to the Judge preach about the world. 
Weirdly enough though, I found that the violence wasn’t all that shocking. I have read that many readers who have gotten through to the end experience desensitisation, but it probably says something about me that, while the violence is vivid and utterly brutal, I just had a weird sense of dissociation. There was something about the stark nature of the writing style and the bleak, lawless setting that meant that when the violence did come along, it just felt like a natural extension. It didn’t feel as shocking to me as, for example, Chuck Palahniuk’s violent scenes, which stick out because they’re meant to be set in modern day and contrast with mundanity. 
The thing that really stuck out for me was the Judge’s speeches, just because he’s such a well-written Devil figure. He is an unusual figure in pretty much every way compared to the company that he keeps, from his huge stature and arresting lack of hair, to the eloquence with which he completely runs circles around his uneducated travelling companions, to the obvious enjoyment that he takes in the violence that he inflicts as opposed to killing from necessity or for money. In addition to his unusual features, he seems to get a lot more spotlight than the nominal protagonist, the Kid, which gives the reader a better idea of his nature, if not his true origins. For me, I couldn’t shake the idea that he was meant to be Satan, considering some of his actions appear to have no physical explanation at times, which gave the whole book a weird kind of Biblical parable feel to it. It felt like if new chapters of the Old Testament were written, but God never interjects as a guide, leaving the world to descend further and further into evil in their absence. 
A fascinatingly grim book, Blood Meridian is definitely not for those who can’t stomach violence. Personally I found the Judge’s speeches to be the far more disturbing part of the narrative, but I can understand it would be a deciding factor. I had this as an audiobook, but I would be really interested in re-reading it as a print or e-book at some later date. 4/5 
Next review: K-ON! Volume 1 by kakifly 
Signing off, 
Nisa. 

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