Now the five novels, the memoir, and some short stories, essays and newspaper articles have been gathered together in one tidy volume edited by Jay Jennings, and installed where they belong, in the pantheon of American letters, the Library of America ... The greatness of Portis’s novels lies in speech—the austere locutions of True Grit, the sales jabber from various 20th-century parties, the off-kilter dialogue between solipsistic individuals, and great riffs of talk from characters in the grip of some idée fixe. The comedy is ineffable, inextricable from its context, the ready-for-anything American mindscape.
A meticulously curated new compendium from the Library of America, which collects his five novels and assorted other works, allows for a fresh opportunity to reckon with his slippery, unsettled legacy ... It’s tempting to point out the disjunction between the author’s fundamental outsider stance and his postmortem embrace by the institutional intelligentsia ... Includes a survey of Portis’s journalism, essays and other nonfiction, ranging from visceral accounts of civil rights violence in the segregated South during the early ’60s to a droll comedic essay from 1977 ... A nervous sense of inevitable, awful and profoundly satisfying violence lurks throughout. In typical Portis fashion, the novel glides to its resolution with the transporting advantage of several well-executed twists.
A new volume... edited by the Arkansas journalist Jay Jennings, gathers all these characters and more, collecting Portis’s five novels together with his short stories and some of his journalism, including the parody of an advice column that ran in this magazine. It’s absurdly fun to follow his oddballs and their odysseys, but something more than fun, too. Portis’s genius went beyond character in the strictly literary sense, to reveal something about moral character and many somethings about the character of this country.