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Charles Portis: Collected Works

Charles Portis

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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 OzAlice 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.”

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