Lately, educators have been talking about grit as a character trait that can predict success. I have always associated the term with girls, thanks to Charles Portis's original book, a title that was remarkable for its time. In the late 60s and 70s, there weren't a lot of stories about young women with gumption. Sure, there was Nancy Drew, but she so often relied on 'the boys' when the going got rough; There was also Pippi Longstocking, but she was for younger readers. When the most recent movie came out, I was glad to see that the Coen brothers were true to the original Mattie and her enterprising spirit. Truly, she was the hero in the book, and not Rooster Cogburn, as the 1969 John Wayne film version suggested.
Ree Dolly, the tenacious teenager from the movie Winter's Bone is cut from the same cloth as Mattie Ross. The movie follows follows the mostly falling fortunes of 17 year old Ree as she discovers that her meth-cooking father is on the lam, having put the family house up for bond. If he doesn't show up in court, the family - 2 kids and a mentally absent mother - will lose everything. She sets out to find him among all the hard luck people living in her corner of the Ozarks and gains some unwanted attention from those who wish her father to stay hidden. The book is based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, an author whose works have been called "country noir".
Another novel featuring a woman who finds herself in an untenable situation is the award-winning Outlander by the poet, Gil Adamson. In the winter of 1903, Mary has lost her baby son to sickness and is frequently beaten by her abusive husband. She takes desperate measures, killing her husband and fleeing west. She is pursued by her husband's vengeful twin brothers, a pair of single-minded, characters who could easily have stepped out of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Along the way she falls into the company of a group of eccentrics in a hard-scrabble mining town.
All of these stories share an unforgiving landscape, a sense of lawlessness, and a determined underdog on a quest. And there are more of these than you might think: Molly Gloss's story of eastern Oregon, The Hearts of Horses, the somewhat obscure and spoofy Caprice by George Bowering, and Away by Amy Bloom. All of these stories feature strong female characters who move the action along. If that's your cup of tea, then happy reading and watching.