Shop Indie Bookstores
Epitaph, Mary Doria Russell, Ecco, 2015, 577 pp
This is the sequel to Doc and my reading group were unanimous on it being a great read, even though it is a Western, a genre we have never read in all the 15 years I have been a member of the group! No one even complained about the length.
Mary Doria Russell set out to tell the truest story she could about the shoot-out at the O K Corral in Tombstone, AZ. Her goal was to dispel the myths that have grown up about Wyatt Earp. She accomplished both, including taking the tale all the way to Earp's death many years later, delineating how those myths came about. One member of the group felt sad to learn that this hero of hers was not the wonderful man she had always revered. A peril of reading good literature, I guess.
The novel packs a lot of history and I felt I had learned more than I ever knew before about that time period in America. Somehow, though I grew up with Wyatt Earp as one of my heroes, I had never realized that the O K Corral incident occurred in 1881, just twenty years after the Civil War began. Though the Eastern part of the country was quite civilized at that time, the West was still wild, violent, and only slightly lawful.
Life for women in those Western towns was especially brutal. Most single women who found themselves there were forced to turn to prostitution to survive. Only one of the Earp brothers was married to his woman, though they were mostly faithful. But mining of gold, copper, and other minerals brought businessmen from the East and made them rich and influential. The enmity between the North and the South was still a driving social and political force with deep divisions between the two. In fact, it was politics and money that created the conditions leading up to the massacre that lasted only thirty seconds and left everyone involved either dead or scarred for life.
It is truly a monumental read and gives much food for thought. In light of our current Presidential campaign, please read and ponder the Author's Note found at the beginning of the novel:
"The poles of American politics have been stable since the presidential election of 1800. A federalist party proclaiming, 'We are a nation of laws' has always been opposed by a 'Don't tread on me' party that resists regulation in the name of personal liberty. Since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, they've been called the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. Please note that in the 1880s, those labels were reversed."
(Epitaph is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)