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is the genuine article—a book so strong that it reads as myth. It was too goddamned perfect to be true, and yet there it was.” And here it is—here it is, again.As Wolfe notes of Portis’s enviable success: “He made a fortune… * In office south of Times Square, as stubborn proof that the dream of the Novel—with its fortune-changing, culture-denting potential—never really died, even at a time when journalists were discovering new narrative ranges, fiction-trumping special effects.
Unlike Huck Finn, to whose narrative hers is sometimes compared, Mattie knows the Bible back to front, handily settling spiritual debates by citing chapter and verse.
There was only one trophy worth typing for, one white whale worth the by-line and fishing wire, the Great, or even just the Pretty Good, American Novel, and Charlie Portis was going to try and snag it. In “Your Action Line,” a two-page lark published in ), Portis addressed such pressing queries as “Can you put me in touch with a Japanese napkin-folding club?
” (If a similar peep had emerged from Camp Salinger, it would scan as Zen koan.) The exchange ends with encyclopedia-caliber dope on a heretofore obscure insect: Q—My science teacher told me to write a paper on the “detective ants” of Ceylon, and I can’t find anything about these ants.
In any event, Portis left not only England but ink-stained wretchdom itself—“quit cold,” as Wolfe writes in “The Birth of the New Journalism: An Eyewitness Report” (1972), later the introduction to the 1973 anthology .
After sailing back to the States on “one of the Mauretania’s last runs,” he reportedly holed up in his version of Proust’s cork-lined study—a fishing shack back in Arkansas—to try his hand at fiction.