cover image Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany

Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany

Edited by Jay Jennings. Butler Center Books (Univ. of Arkansas, dist.), $27.95 (378p) ISBN 978-1-935106-50-0

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%E2%80%93Nashville's music scene, Elvis Presley's bedside vigil%E2%80%93he 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.)