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“Only a Mean Person Won’t Enjoy It”

Novelist Charles Portis (1933-2020)

Now that I have read four of his five novels and will in all likelihood have read most of his work before the end of the year, I can say that Charles Portis is one of my favorite American novelists of the Twentieth Century. He is perhaps the best thing to ever come out of Arkansas, the state where he was born, lived most of his life, and died.

First of all, here are his five novels:

  • Norwood (1966)
  • True Grit (1968)
  • The Dog of the South (1979)
  • Masters of Atlantis (1980)
  • Gringos (1991)

Undoubtedly, you have heard of True Grit. Hollywood turned it into two enjoyable movies, one starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, and the other (produced by the Coen Brothers) starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin.

The only Portis novel I have not read so far is Masters of Atlantis. He also produced a collection of essays in 2012 called Escape Velocity. The name comes from a quote from one of his novels: “A lot of people leave Arkansas and most of them come back sooner or later. They can’t quite achieve escape velocity.”

Like J. D. Salinger, Charles Portis was a man who avoided the limelight. He would point out, however, that his phone number was in the Little Rock phonebook.

Everything I have read by Portis can best be described as gentle humor. As one reviewer said of True Grit, “Only a mean person won’t enjoy it.” Too true!