R.I.P., Charles Portis

“The Dog of the South,” by Charles Portis.

One of our best and perhaps least known writers, Charles Portis, has gone west. He was 86.

You may recall the name from “True Grit,” which was made into two movies (John Wayne and Jeff Bridges).

But the former New York Herald Tribune reporter also wrote “The Dog of the South,” about a former copy editor who pursues his wife, his Amex card, and her first husband with his chow dog, to Mexico. Being familiar with copy editing, the relentless vindictiveness of American Express, and chow dogs, this naturally spoke to me.

There was also “Norwood,” about an itinerant ex-jarhead trying to collect a debt; “Gringos,” featuring the search for a lost Mayan city; and “Masters of Atlantis,” about a cult based on the “secret wisdom” of that place.

His books were filled with screwballs, dingbats, and scammers, and his use of language was superb, particularly in “True Grit.” At times I wonder whether Thomas McGuane might have absorbed a bit of his style.

And yet hardly anyone knows him, or his work. He guarded his privacy, but the Alzheimer’s stole his wit.

A final bit of strangeness: Roy Reed, the reporter who wrote Portis’ obit for The New York Times, is himself dead. Another, Steve Barnes, handled the finishing touches.

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4 Responses to “R.I.P., Charles Portis”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    My condolences, but like many, I didn’t know him.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      You should check him out. “True Grit” is a great starting point. If you’ve seen either of the movies, you’ll be amazed at how much dialogue was lifted straight from the book, word for word. That seems a rarity to me.

  2. Pat O'Brien Says:

    I enjoyed the first movie, but the remake not so much. Another author to add to the growing list for me to check out. Right now our tandem friends and I are revisiting Tony Hillerman.

    By the way, there is a really good mystery series on PBS called “Vienna Blood.” We are really enjoying it.

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