Charles Portis’s protagonists are usually gentle, naïve fellows who drift artlessly through an absurd, often savage world. Since Portis’s fictional world is a comic one, the characters’ very innocence serves as their shield and as a comfort to the reader. Jimmy Burns, however, resembles Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn—the central characters in Portis’s second novel, True Grit (1968)—far more than he does the author’s other protagonists.
Jimmy is self-sufficient, competent (he can repair a clutch and perform other equally esoteric mechanical tasks), resourceful, brave, and loyal. He was a military policeman in the Marine Corps and saw combat in Korea. He is unaffected and approachable. He is extremely tolerant of others, but he does have his own code of conduct. For example, during his first encounter with the Jumping Jacks, he seems less offended by their insults and threats than by Beany Girl’s act of immodest urination. There are certain things, he thinks, that no decent woman will do, and that is one of them. Of course, Jimmy has his blind spots and shortcomings. It is so difficult for him to make a commitment to a member of the opposite sex that Louise Kurle, who experiences no such difficulties, finally transfers the matter of marriage from his to her own capable hands.
Although by no means one-dimensional, the other characters—as in Portis’s earlier fiction—are generally ruled by some particular obsession...
(The entire section is 543 words.)