Norwood Charles Portis


Published: 1999


168 pages


Norwood  by  Charles Portis

Norwood by Charles Portis
1999 | Paperback | PDF, EPUB, FB2, DjVu, audiobook, mp3, RTF | 168 pages | ISBN: | 4.14 Mb

I agonized over whether to give Norwood three or four stars—which tells me three things: (1) I’m prone to exaggeration- (2) I really need to get a life- and (3) Goodreads should add half-star ratings instead of worrying about retarded mascot contests and adding mostly pointless Facebookish features to the site which inevitably cause that damnable Alice picture/Bertrand Russell quote to show up (again!).

Get your act together, Goodreads. This site is too big now to be run out of somebody’s garage with a week-old burrito oozing into the ventilation slits on the server. This is the big league, and the big league demands fractional stars—which brings me back to point number two above.Norwood is another triumph of characterization, knee-deep in Texarkana white trash color. These are people who still pepper their speech with ‘nigger’ and wear outlandish cowboy accoutrements unironically.

Norwood Pratt, the protagonist, like other Portis protagonists, is a few increments more thoughtful and broad-minded than his peers, as liable to befriend an overweight showbiz midget and a frizzy New York Jew (which he does) as a huckster in a Stetson trafficking stolen cars or a freeloading redneck army veteran. He also seems to prefer the word Negro. And the only evidence we really need to prove Norwood’s moral worth is that he liberates a fortune-telling chicken from its entrepreneurial captivity, motivated by pity for the harried creature.

Did I mention the chicken is college-educated and wears a mortarboard? So from this we can surmise that Norwood isn’t prejudiced against intellectuals either.I know. It sounds a little ‘quirky,’ doesn’t it? In the disparaging, Little Miss Sunshine sense of the word.

Lots of eccentrics crowded into a single phone booth to see what comes of it. Usually that kind of stuff sends me clambering for something dry-as-a-bone—maybe a book on Basque history or some cute thing by Immanuel Kant. But Portis wisely treats all his eccentrics as just run-of-the-mill anybodies, so it doesn’t grate on your nerves.

I imagine that could be Portis’s point—if he in fact has one, other than mere yarnspinning. Depeche Mode said it more succinctly, but also more embarrassingly: ‘People are people.’ Even if people happen to travel from Texas to New York City, in stolen cars and, later, freight trains, to collect a debt of seventy bucks. If you’re as poor and principled as Norwood, it’s not an inconsequential matter. And it’s not an exceptional thing either. It’s just what anybody should or might do.So what’s the problem with Norwood? Well, do you know those times when the wine or other libation has been flowing around a dinner table and you’re with friends or serviceable acquaintances, and all of a sudden one or another of them starts in on a loooong but entertaining story about some strange or noteworthy occurrence?

There are usually a lot of laughs in such stories—abetted by the liquor, maybe—and you have no problem keeping interested, but sometimes when the end arrives, you end up thinking, ‘So what?’ In other words, why was the story told at all, how was it relevant to any conversation that preceded it, and what in the name of Sweet Jeezus was the point of the whole thing? The point is clearly in just the storytelling for Portis, but I kind of wanted a little something more than just mindless entertainment.

Not much, just a little more. The Norwood who finishes up the story, you see, is the same Norwood who starts it. Maybe that’s another point of the story? People like these are impervious and indomitable? Perhaps. Or maybe the point was just to amuse me. All the same, I’m still suspicious.

Enter the sum

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