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Norwood ()

Charles Portis died last week; one of the lucky few artists to be rediscovered during his own lifetime. Had he written nothing else, he'd have been celebrated for the American classic, True Grit, but he wrote several very funny novels, mostly around Southern characters and their misadventures. As is the way of such things, I just found a copy of Norwood at the Thrift Store for 75 cents so I gave it a quick reread.

It's a picaresque in which the title character heads from his hometown, Ralph, TX, in a stolen car to NYC to collect a $70 debt, then takes a bus home with his new fiance, the World's Smallest Perfect Man, and Joan the Wonder Hen, The College Educated Chicken. Equal parts Candide, Pickwick Papers and The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun, Portis relies more on the interaction between characters than on comic incident and the dramatis personae are certainly memorable. The book richly deserves its reputation as a comedy classic.

But, truth be told, I had one unexpected reaction to the text. Not only are there no significant black characters and repeated uses of the "n"-word, but there is no indication that the repeated low opinions expressed about blacks are questioned by the author and they are definitely not played for laughs. Now the book was published in 1966 by a native of Arkansas, so maybe we ought not expect overmuch in the way of wokeness, but that is far enough into the Civil rights Era that we should expect him to question at least his own attitudes, if not those of his cracker cast. It genuinely made me feel uncomfortable and did reduce my enjoyment of the book, fair or not.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Charles Portis (3 books reviewed)
Charles Portis Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Charles Portis
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Charles Portis (IMDB)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Norwood
    -Reading group: True Grit by Charles Portis (Sam Jordison, 6 Nov 2012, The Guardian)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Norwood (novel)
    -BIO: Portis, Charles (Vered Kleinberger, Spring 1999, Scholar Blog, Emory)
    -BIO: Charles McColl Portis (1933–2020) (Encyclopedia of Arkansas)
    -AUDIO BOOK: Charles Portis - Masters of Atlantis Audiobook (YouTube)
    -SHORT STORY: THE WIND BLOWETH WHERE IT LISTETH (Charles Portis, August 26, 2013, Oxford American)
    -SHORT STORY: MOTEL LIFE, LOWER REACHES (Charles Portis, April 3, 2014, Oxford American)
    -SHORT STORY: Combinations of Jacksons (CHARLES PORTIS, MAY 1999, The Atlantic)
    -SHORT STORY: I Don't Talk Service No More (Charles Portis, May 1996, The Atlantic)
    -INTERVIEW: Read a rare interview with Charles Portis about his Arkansas days (Will Stephenson June 17, 2014, Arkansas Times)
    -Excerpt: 'True Grit' (NPR)
    -TRIBUTE: Donna Tartt on the Singular Voice, and Pungent Humor, of Charles Portis (Donna Tartt, 6/09/20, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: Charles Portis, a Journalist With True Grit (Jay Jennings, Jul. 14, 2017, Daily Beast)
    -ESSAY: OUR LEAST-KNOWN GREAT NOVELIST: Do Charles Portis’s Trailways dreamers possess the mysteries of the universe? (RON ROSENBAUM, January 1998, Esquire)
    -TRIBUTE: Charles Portis’ “Norwood” at 50: A Review (Joe Meazle, August 4, 2016, Arkansas Times)
    -ESSAY: Pure Nitro: 40 Years of Charles Portis’s Comic Masterpiece ‘The Dog of the South’: Adored by generations of writers as well as the likes of Bill Hader and the Coen brothers, this wonder of American literature is four decades old this year. How is it that this absurd and hilarious 1979 novel can say so much about our current collective psyche? (Elizabeth Nelson Feb 1, 2019,, The Ringer)
    -PROFILE: True Grit, Odd Wit: And Fame? No, Thanks (Charles McGrath, Dec. 19, 2010, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: Like Cormac McCarthy, But Funny (Ed Park, 3/01/03, Believer)
    -OBIT: Charles Portis, Elusive Author of ‘True Grit,’ Dies at 86 (Roy Reed, Feb. 17, 2020, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Charles Portis, author of 'True Grit,' dies at 86 (Amir Vera, 2/17/20, CNN)
    -OBIT: True Grit author Charles Portis dies aged 86 (Alison Flood, 18 Feb 2020, The Guardian)
    -OBIT: Charles Portis: the unsentimental cult novelist who wrote True Grit,/a> (Martin Chilton, 18 FEBRUARY 2020, The Telegraph)
-OBIT: ‘True Grit’ Author Charles Portis, a Comic Genius, Is Dead (Malcolm Jones, Feb. 19, 2020, daily Beast)
    -OBIT: True Grit author Charles Portis dies at 86 (Joey Nolfi February 18, 2020, EW)
    -OBIT: American Novelist Charles Portis, Author of True Grit, Dead at 86 (Halle Kiefer, 2/18/20, Vulture)
    -OBIT: Charles Portis: 'True Grit' author worked at The Commercial Appeal (John Beifuss, 2/18/20, The Commercial Appeal)
    -TRIIBUTE: Charles Portis: the unsentimental cult novelist who wrote True Grit (Martin Chilton, 18 FEBRUARY 2020, The Telegraph)
    -TRIBUTE: Gritting My Teeth: Losing Charles Portis (Terry Barr, Feb 19, 2020, Medium)
    -TRIBUTE: Remembering the Great Charles Portis (Called "our least-known great writer" Portis was a sui generis talent who produced some of the most memorable books of the twentieth-century (Jonathan Rogers, 2/18/20, Forma review)
    -PROFILE: JUST SHORT OF ESCAPE VELOCITY: Reflecting on the life of Charles Portis (Jay Jennings, JUNE 26, 2014, Idle Class)
    -TRIBUTE: The American Anthropology of Charles Portis (KALEB HORTON, FEB 20, 2020, Slate)
    -ESSAY: One-Eyed Gods and One-Armed Gods: Does True Grit tap into an ancient myth? (PAUL DEVLIN, FEB 04, 2011, Slate)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Of Gnats and Men: A New Reading of Portis (Ron Rosenbaum • 05/24/99, NY Observer)
    -TRIBUTE: Graced Grit: A Hymn-laced Eulogy to True Grit Author Charles Portis (Barbara Castle, February 28, 2020, Front Porch Republic)
    -ESSAY: Greasing the skids (Stefan Beck, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Portishead: The Literary Genius of Charles Portis (ALEX HEARD, October 8, 2012, New Republic)
    -PROFILE: The Author Behind ‘True Grit’ (John Jurgensen, Dec 21, 2010 , WSJ)
    -TRIBUTE: WHAT CHARLES PORTIS TAUGHT US (Wells Tower, 2/20/20, The New Yorker)
    -TRIBUTE: Nothing Makes Sense Except Charles Portis: He showed me another South. (jacob Rosenberg, 2/21/20, Mother jones)
    -TRIBUTE: Remembering Charles Portis: ‘True Grit’ is just the entry point for this master of American fiction (John Warner, 2/20/20, Chicago Tribune)
    -TRIBUTE: REMEMBERING CHARLES PORTIS (The Editors | February 18, 2020, Oxford American)
    -SPEECH: TEN HIGH WITH MR. PORTIS (Jay Jennings | April 8, 2014, Oxford American)
    -TRIBUTE: Charles Portis Was One of the Great American Novelists Sometimes, a handful of books is all you need to speak volumes: Charles Portis Was One of the Great American Novelists (TOBIAS CARROLL, FEBRUARY 18, 2020, Inside Hook)
    -ESSAY: A Portis Reader (Julie Cline, SEPTEMBER 2, 2011, LA Review of Books)
    -TRIBUTE: Give a Shout Out to Charles Portis and His Extraordinary Novel ‘True Grit' (Allen Barra, Apr. 20, 2018, Daily Beast)
    -A String of Maybes: Speculating the Elusive Charles Portis (Aaron Gilbreath, October 2013, The Gettysburg Review)
    -TRIBUTE: Appreciating Charles Portis (Kyle Brazzel, May 18, 2016, The Awl)
    -INTERVIEW: Pelecanos on the Enduring Power of 'True Grit' (Chris Lehmann, 6/02/06, NPR)
    -ESSAY: The Lure of the Oeuthre: On Charles Portis and Flannery O’Connor (Glen David Gold, NOVEMBER 18, 2012, LA Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: The world's most miserable gazillionaire: Even a full-blown Portis gnasherfest couldn't get big gorgonzola Mike Eisner to say cheese. (DOUGLAS CRUICKSHANK, MAY 8, 1999, Salon)
    -TRIBUTE: R.I.P. Charles Portis, Great American Writer. (Dan Sheehan, February 18, 2020, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: The Resurrection of Charles Portis (Hollywood Reporter, 1/5/2011)
    -PROFILE: Escape velocity (Paul Greenberg, 10/31/12, Jewish World Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Masters of Atlantis Is Essential Reading for the QAnon Age: Charles Portis’ book about a fictional cult has amassed a devoted following of its own, with Michael Cera, Bill Hader, and The Office creator Greg Daniels among its fans (BRIAN BOYLE, DEC 31, 2020, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Rooster: The Life and Times of the Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man Who Inspired True Grit by Brett Cogburn (Publishers Wwekly)
    -ARCHIVES: Charles Portis (Publishers Weekly)
    -ARCHIVES: Charles Portis (The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood by Charles Portis (Dan Kois, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (Martin Levin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (Douglas Cruickshank, Ralph)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (Aaron Gilbreath, Kenyon Review)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (NOVELLA CARPENTER, The Stranger)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (Dan Kois, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Norwood (Rich Horton, Strange at Ecbatan)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (Nicholas Deshais, Inlander)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (Readings)
    -PODCAST: Episode 26: Charles Portis, Norwood (January 21, 2013, Book Fight)
    -REVIEW: of Norwood (Harrison Freeman, The Ringer)
    -PODCAST: True Grit (Good Story)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit by Charles Portis (Rohan Maitzen, Open Letters)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit (Ingrid Norton, Open Letters)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit (Christopher Hirst, the Independent)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit (Madison Asher, Clay)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit (Edward Gwynne, Grimdark)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit (Donald A. Hoglin, Western American Literature)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit (Stefan Beck, B&N Review)
    -REVIEW: of True Grit (Jeff Baker, The Oregonian)
    -REVIEW: of Gringos by Charles Portis (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Gringos (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Book That Changed My Life: Wells Tower The acclaimed author on the subtle genius of True Grit author Charles Portis' underrated gem, Gringos (WELLS TOWER, May 27, 2011, GQ)
    -REVIEW: of Gringos (Carlo Rotella, Public Books)
    -REVIEW: of Gringos (Robert Houston, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Gringos (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Gringos (Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Masters of Atlantis (Carl Scott, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Masters of Atlantis (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Masters of Atlantis (John Anthony West, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Dog of the South by Charles Portis (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Dog of the South (Ron Rosenbaum, NY Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Dog of the South (Larry L. King, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Escape Velocity by Charles Portis (Bill Morris, The Millions)
    -REVIEW: of Escape Velocity (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Escape Velocity (John Preston, Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Escape Velocity (John Powers, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Escape Velocity (Carlo Rotella, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Escape Velocity (Wes Davis, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Escape Velocity (Katherine A. Powers, B&N Review)
    -REVIEW: of Escape Velocity (Stefan Beck, New Criterion)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Charles Portis (IMDB)
    -IMDB: True Grit (2010)
    -IMDB: True Grit (1969)
    -ESSAY: Repo Man: Glen Campbell in Charles Portis’s Norwood (Rebecca Bengal August 16, 2017, Paris Review)
    -INTERVIEW: BOLD TALK: with filmmaker Katrina Whalen (Jay Jennings, August 25, 2013, Oxford American)
    -FILM: Norwood (1970) (Amazon Prime)
    -INTERVIEW: Joel and Ethan Coen on 'True Grit': We completely ignored the original ( Will Lawrence, 28 Jan 2011, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEWS: True Grit (2010) (MetaCritic)

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