Friday, July 15, 2011


Doc, Mary Doria Russell, Random House, 2011, 389 pp

This book was so great. Even though I had to put it down in the middle and read something else for a review deadline, I picked it back up and was instantly back into the story. It was like when I see one of my favorite people and though we may not have spoken for a long time, it is as though we had just been together.

That is the wonder of authors like Russell. She tells her stories with so much life in the characters, so much emotional investment and such startling, real details that I am allowed into the worlds she creates as a welcome friend.

Doc is historical fiction about the American West. Doc Holliday, compatriot of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson (all of whom became legends after the shoot out at the OK Corral), is mostly known in the context of that legend. Mary Doria Russell wrote her book to get behind the legend and find the real man.

He was quite a guy. Born with a cleft palate but lucky enough to have an uncle who was one of the first surgeons able to correct that defect, he survived childhood and the Civil War thanks to his devoted mother and a male cousin who guarded John Henry Holliday from ridicule and taught him about the world.

Holliday was an accomplished classical pianist, had an eidetic memory for poetry, read Greek and Latin. But as a teen he contracted tuberculosis, the disease that killed his dear mother. The Civil War had destroyed the way of life he had been born into. At the age of 22, he left Georgia, already trained as a dentist, and landed in Dodge City, Kansas, with the volatile Hungarian whore Kate, and began to make his living in that wild town as a gambler.

Romantic, adventurous, tragic and full of heart and humor, Doc belongs in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn, Wallace Stegner, even Louis L'Amour. It is one of my favorite reads of the summer so far.

(Doc is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


  1. I like the comparison to Huckleberry Finn, and that one being one of my favorite books from my childhood, perhaps I would like Doc.

    1. I really liked Epitaph but I loved Doc.