Donna Tartt came by Turnrow this week. (As usual, we were caught without a camera to prove it.) Most don't realize she was born in Greenwood and grew up nearby. She usually visits family during the holidays and has made a point to stop by and visit the store every year.
In addition to making the day (the birthday at that) of one of her biggest fans, who happened to be in the store at the time, Donna also told us a bit about her new book (another year or so from publication, she thinks) and her favorite books of the year (she loved Skippy Dies by Paul Murray), but we mostly talked about True Grit, both the novel by Charles Portis and the new movie by the Coen Brothers.
We're all acknowledged fans of True Grit, us through our frequent in-store recommendations and blogging, her through her excellent afterword to the paperback edition (which is inexplicably "out of stock" from the publisher) and her narration of the audio book (also inexplicably "out of stock").
We all agreed the Coens have made a valiant film adaptation, and not, as so many have described it, a remake of the 1969 movie with John Wayne. While there are a couple of Coenesque digressions, which keep it from being a strict visual rendition, the new True Grit holds steadfastly true to the novel, and filmgoers, especially fans of Western films, who sees this movie will probably be struck by the unique dialogue. Any who who watched HBO's Western series Deadwood will recognize this style of heightened verbal sparring and playful eloquence — without the gleeful, acid-tongued profanity — Shakespearean in its wit and pace, Old Testament in its cold persuasiveness. But the filmmakers wisely kept the dialogue word-for-word from Portis' 1968 novel, so faithful that the novelist deserves screenwriting credit. (We wouldn't be surprised if it was offered by the Coens and denied by Portis, who famously shuns literary attention.) You rarely see film characters today speak in such repartee. Sharp audiences will hang on every word, not wanting to miss a syllable. If there are any faults in this cool, straight adaptation, it's that the dialogue proves too big a mouthful in certain instances.
After our initial excitement upon hearing that the Coens were making True Grit, we were curious why they didn't go for The Dog of the South or Masters of Atlantis, two other Portis novels that seemed more suited to the Coens' sensibilities. Their choice makes more sense after learning that the book was a major influence in their early lives, and in a way, a second, arguably better film adaptation advances the book's deserved place in the long, proud tradition of American folklore. Give high school kids this to read instead of The Scarlet Letter or The Return of the Native and maybe a few new life-time readers would be made.