Published August 4, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

Review of Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Overview from Born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday arrives on the Texas frontier hoping that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Soon, with few job prospects, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally with his partner, Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung, classically educated Hungarian whore. In search of high-stakes poker, the couple hits the saloons of Dodge City. And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and a fearless lawman named Wyatt Earp begins— before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.

My Review:

“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.” P. 14

Doc by Mary Doria Russell caught me off guard. It was such a short, simple title that I couldn’t help but wonder why Ms. Russell hadn’t considered calling her novel something else. Still, I am not sure that I could have done any better myself. I am terrible about coming up with titles for my own stories and even after reading this book all the way through, I can’t think of anything better.

So the message here is: don’t let this story’s simple title fool you. It is anything but simple. And it covers not only the events in the title character’s life, the infamous Doc Holliday, but also those of other characters. Even the Chinese laundry man gets his chance to unburden himself to the readers. Although this method at first distracted me, I eventually came to like it as it gives us a chance to see Doc’s friends as real people, and they can tell us what they think about the Doc.

This was a free two-week e-book download from my local library and was one of only ten books or so that came up when I typed the word “Western” into the search engine. I was intrigued at first when I saw the writer’s name and realized that this is the first time I can remember having ever seen a woman’s name come up as the writer of a Western. And the first time I remember having seen Doc Holliday as the subject. The only other time I encountered him was as a minor character in Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp. I remember very little about him from that one though.

As you may have guessed this novel version of the Doc’s life did not disappoint. Well, not too much anyway. The novel reads somewhat like a history which left me confused as to which parts were accurate and which were not. Fortunately, the author explains most of this at the back of the book.

There is also a list of the cast of characters at the beginning and although I briefly studied it before reading the story, I found that I could keep the characters straight without too much effort. I don’t know if the list was really necessary after all but maybe for some readers it is.

Finally, I found Doc and a few of the other characters to be entertaining even if they were not as bad as Bat Masterson made them out to be. Doc is one of the only well-educated men living in Dodge during most of the story and the ignorance of the other citizens made me laugh.

I also liked Wyatt even if he wasn’t always the sharpest tool in the shed. He had an honesty and goodness about him in spite of his sins and weakness which I found somewhat charming.

To be fair though, I must warn potential readers out there about some things. Some of the language is corse but you can’t expect good manners from prostitutes so you’ll have to keep that in mind. The other thing I must mention is that the famous fight at the OK Corral is barely touched on. The emphasis is on Doc’s life before that time period so those of you who are more interested in that than the rest of it will probably be disappointed. I can’t say that I was though.

Contains: profanity, and some sexuality as well as violence.

Below is a video of a discussion with the author about this book:


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