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You Never Know What the Day Will Bring

Charles Portis's fifth novel is of course a pleasure in its own right, but it's also an occasion—or should I say I am making it one—for reflecting on its author and his work, his style, his literary profile, the way he does things with words. I'd like to do that, because I don't think, in spite of his success, that Mr. Portis has entirely gotten his due, the recognition that he deserves as a writer.

As he shows once again in Gringos, Charles Portis is a deceptively laid-back performer. His narrator, Jimmy Burns, is so relaxed that we forget just how much is going on beneath the surface of his pages as we scan them. The ride is so absorbing for its incidental joys that we forget where we are going. We don't care. Later we realize that the journey was more thoughtfully conducted than we ever knew. The nonchalance of the experience reflects the sprezzatura of the artist.

I suppose that Charles Portis's style and diction are not only personal accomplishments but are products of his Arkansas background. He seems to have advanced the tradition of southwestern or frontier humor as we have received it from Thorpe and Twain and Faulkner, and to have forged his own unique sound and subject matter. That tone of his, in Norwood, The Dog of the South, and Gringos, is a special blend compounded of cunning and naiveté, of rustic whimsy and contemporary...

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