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Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany

Overview

For those who care about literature or simply love a good laugh (or both), Charles Portis has long been one of America's most admired novelists. His 1968 novel True Grit is fixed in the contemporary canon, and four more have been hailed as comic masterpieces. Now, for the first time, his other writings—journalism, travel stories, short fiction, memoir, and even a play—have been brought together in Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, his first new book in more than twenty years. All the familiar Portis ...

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Overview

For those who care about literature or simply love a good laugh (or both), Charles Portis has long been one of America's most admired novelists. His 1968 novel True Grit is fixed in the contemporary canon, and four more have been hailed as comic masterpieces. Now, for the first time, his other writings—journalism, travel stories, short fiction, memoir, and even a play—have been brought together in Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, his first new book in more than twenty years. All the familiar Portis elements are here: picaresque adventures, deadpan humor, an expert eye for detail and keen ear for the spoken word, and encounters with oddball characters both real and imagined. The collection encompasses the breadth of his fifty-year writing career, from his gripping reportage of the civil rights movement for the New York Herald Tribune to a comic short story about the demise of journalism in the 21st century. New to even the most ardent fan is his three-act play, Delray's New Moon, performed onstage in 1996 and published here for the first time. Whether this is your first encounter with the world of Portis or a long-awaited return to it, you'll agree with critic Ron Rosenbaum—whose essay appears here alongside tributes by other writers—that Portis "will come to be regarded as the author of classics on the order of a twentieth-century Mark Twain, a writer who captures the soul of America."

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…a thoughtfully composed selection of published work spiced with rare and fresh material…Portis really shines in this collection as an essayist, especially as a travel writer—which makes sense, given his novels' tendency to put characters in revelatory motion through the landscape.
—Carlo Rotella
Publishers Weekly
No other writer can so accurately be compared to greats as diverse as Twain, Garcia Marquez, Chaucer and McCarthy. Portis easily lives up to these laurels while remaining his own man, as displayed in the reportage, short fiction and drama assembled here by fellow Arkansan Jennings. Most famed as a novelist, particularly for True Grit and its two hit film adaptations, he also crafts cultural criticism as powerfully understated as contemporary Didion. Even covering subjects that could devolve into kitsch–Nashville's music scene, Elvis Presley's bedside vigil–he displays "deep knowledge worn lightly." A fascination with language that shines through the dialogue in his play Delray's New Moon, printed here for the first time, also produces such treasures in his nonfiction as an etymology of 'bayou.' His self-effacing Civil Rights journalism, meanwhile, effortless registers small, perfect details like young African-American marchers in 1963 Birmingham throwing U.S. flags into the street rather than cede them to arresting police. Portis rarely answers his own questions but does the reader one better, laboring over a far more elusive pleasure: the articulation of the unknown. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Widely known for his novel True Grit, Arkansan Charles Portis has attained cult status. Since beginning his career as a journalist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal more than 50 years ago, he has produced an eclectic body of work that includes reporting, travel essays, short stories, memoir, and drama. Much of that writing is collected here. Portis's voice is strongest in the journalism sections, from wry humor in early vignettes on "Southernness," small-town sports, and a half-hearted attempt to stop smoking, to important eyewitness accounts of Civil Rights tumult for the New York Herald Tribune. The eight short fiction and travel essays showcase the author's fascination with history and place, particularly in his native Arkansas on the Ouachita River ("The Forgotten River"); quirky, sometimes poignant first-person characters evoke the work of William Faulkner or Raymond Carver ("I Don't Talk Service No More"). Tributes from writers including Roy Blount Jr. and Donna Tartt round out the volume. Editor Jennings (Carry the Rock), an Arkansas journalist and humorist, offers a biographical introduction. VERDICT Jennings's insightful introduction provides substantive context for the unfamiliar—and, in some cases, unknown—work of an important American writer who has not sought the spotlight. Recommended for general readers—those who already admire Portis and those coming to him for the first time—as well as scholars seeking hard-to-find primary sources.—Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge Coll., GA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935106500
  • Publisher: Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
  • Publication date: 10/1/2012
  • Pages: 380
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jay Jennings lives in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, where he is a freelance writer. His work appears regularly in the New York Times Book Review, and his writing has been recognized by the Best American Sports Writing annual and has been included in the humor anthologies Mirth of a Nation and The Lowbrow Reader Reader. His book Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City was named a 2010 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.

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