Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Doc by Mary Doria Russell
I loved this book from the very first sentences..."He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle. The disease took fifteen years to hollow out his lungs so completely they could no longer keep him alive. In all that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness."
The story takes place in 1878 (three years before the shootout at the O. K. Corral). Dodge City, Kansas, is a cow town where after the long, hard drive was over and the herds were delivered, weary cowboys could find entertainment that involved gambling, drinking, and hookers. Violence is random and routine and it's all a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp can do to keep it in check. Then the burned body of a boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered and the death seems of special importance to Doc Holliday, a frail dentist who has just started his practice in town.
The ALA gave this book its top pick in historical fiction for 2011, and Russell was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize with Doc--and now I see why. Whatever your image of Doc Holliday was before diving into this book, I guarantee you will come away from this reading with an admiration and respect for Russell's depiction of the educated Southern gentleman who formed an unlikely friendship with the Earp brothers and was so much more than the gunman and gambler that most of us remember from the O.K. Corral.
Russell has a knowledge of 5 or 6 languages and it is refreshing to see some of that language facility used as dialogue for her characters. Doc's "roommate," a high-strung Hungarian whore spouts Magyar, German, French, and Latin. The writing is superb, the research is thorough, the characterizations are rich. The book is full of humor and just soars with beautifully written and engaging dialogue. You really must read this book!