Former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist and features writer Kyle Brazzel, who left Little Rock to work for the business side of the New Yorker and now does freelance writing, has an excellent appreciation at The Awl of Charles Portis’ first novel, “Norwood,” on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
Portis’s singular achievement with Norwood has nothing to do with narrative scope or depth of feeling, but in establishing and sustaining tone in a comedy of manners where no two characters subscribe to the same set of them. This, in particular, seems to have tripped [“Norwood” film director Jack] Haley up. (Though casting the country singer Glenn Campbell as Norwood Pratt didn’t help.) In an exchange at a roadside diner, a cheerful waitress asks Campbell, as Pratt, for his order. “A cup of coffee, I guess,” he replies. “I’ll put in my own cream.” Campbell adds this last bit, a throwaway in the scene, with a kind of sheepish pride, like a little boy who’s pushed the elevator button by himself. But here’s how it goes in print: “Norwood snapped at the counter girl for putting cream in his coffee. She said she didn’t know where he was from but if you wanted it black you had to say so. He told her he was from a place where they let you put your own cream in your coffee. From little syrup pitchers with spring lids.” The highly specific irritability Haley scrubbed from Norwood the movie may be another reason its source material can feel underappreciated. But, that’s entertainment.
Fans of Brazzel (he had a following when he wrote a weekly column for the High Profile section), should also check out his essay on Wonder Woman.