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Day 8

From p. 124 to p. 140 ("One of them marshals was Potter.")

September 10, 2020 by Ed Park

Second day of this amazing long chapter. Quincy to Mattie: “You look like someone has worked you over with the ugly stick.” An insult so stupid it might be genius (as in, I’ve never forgotten it).

Rooster on Moon: “He is too young to be getting about on a willow peg. He loves dancing and sport.”

Moon’s confession. “Quincy hated all the laws, but he was true to his friends.” Will meet his preacher brother “on the Streets of Glory,” to which Rooster says, “Don’t be looking for Quincy.”

Hardboiled: “He never played me false until he killed me.” Quincy and Moon are minor players who feel terrifyingly alive and human.

The ambush: Portis tees up the action clearly beforehand, allowing you to visualize effortlessly when it all comes down. Rooster “directing” M. and R., setting the stage.

Love the image of him brushing their tracks away with a cedar bough. (The arboreal specificity—like “willow peg.”) We wouldn’t have thought of that. Rooster did. Rooster’s confidence reflects Portis’s own.

LaBoeuf wants to know what Lucky Ned Pepper looks like. Rooster: “Just go for the littlest one.”

Here begins one of my favorite stretches of this or indeed any book: Rooster’s long monologue, recounting his checkered past, a mix of confession, rue, and boasts. I could read this forever.

Bushwhacker and jayhawker—guerrilla fighters on the pro-slavery / abolition sides, respectively. Rooster claims ignorance of the former term, revising his history.

Rooster is candid about his other misdeeds: “[W]e relieved those gents of over four thousand in coin.”

“I went to Cairo, Illinois, with mine and started calling myself Burroughs and bought a [sic] eating place called The Green Frog and married a grass widow.” I mean!

The wonderful rambling nature of Portis—the only thing to match it perhaps is Dr. Reo Symes’s monologues in The Dog of the South.

Wife wanted him to be a lawyer. “She bought a heavy book called Daniels on Negotiable instruments and set me to reading it. I never could get a grip on it. Old Daniels pinned me every time.”

Last time I’ll mention Bill Clinton, I swear—from My Life: “The house had belonged to a man who wrote the national plumbing code back in the early 1950s. There was still a set of those fascinating volumes on the living-room bookshelves…”

Sick burn, Rooster style: “Goodbye, Nola, I hope that little nail-selling bastard will make you happy this time.”

On his son: “You would not want to see a clumsier child than Horace. I bet he broke forty cups.” Only Portis would think of describing clumsiness so absurdly.

Love this murky episode: “The Mormons had run Shaftoe out of Great Salt Lake City but don’t ask me about what it was for. Call it a misunderstanding and let it go at that.”

As though Mattie were pestering him on this point (she’s not). “There is no use in asking me questions about it, for I will not answer them. Olly and me both taken a solemn oath to keep silent.”

In what we would imagine to be a stressful point before the ambush, Portis’s humor flourishes—and there’s something deep going on, too. Rooster likes having Mattie for an audience.

That is, he likes Mattie. He sees in her the best qualities of himself. His absurd unending spiel is part entertainment and part confession. He wants her to know about his life—not just the setbacks but the sheer wild span of it.

“I would give three dollars right now for a pickled buffalo tongue.” Which should sound disgusting, but Portis on food always makes me want to eat.

One man riding against seven. “I think you are ‘stretching the blanket.’”

His harsh droving days. “Fogelson abused us like a stepfather. We didn’t know what sleep was.”

“One of them marshals was Potter.” I picked a bad place to break. We’ll get to the rest tomorrow. No natural reader would stop reading here!

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