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Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Doc (edition 2012)

by Mary Doria Russell

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7519612,377 (4.13)416
Authors:Mary Doria Russell
Info:Ballantine Books (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 432 pages
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Doc by Mary Doria Russell


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I've never been interested in the Wild West, the western genre (books or film), or this particular cast of characters (Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, etc.). In fact, I've always avoided it like the plague and will probably continue to do so in the future. However, Russell makes late 19th Century Dodge, Kansas, come alive in the most fascinating and delightful way, where even a skeptic such as myself is swept into the time and place. I was enchanted. Of course, rather than an action-packed Western, this is an in-depth character study of the charming, well-educated, consumptive, Southern gentleman Doc Holliday and the earnest, moralistic, somewhat dimwitted, but yet oddly likable lawman Wyatt Earp. The supporting characters are well-fleshed out too.

The novel focuses on the origins of the Holliday/Earp friendship a few years prior to the Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona (which I had heard of, but knew nothing about, before looking it up when reading this novel) and how such an unlikely friendship blossomed between such fundamentally different personalities out of necessity and just the basic need for human bonding and camaraderie in a hostile environment. It also touches on the theme of reinvention, where almost every character gets second and third leases on life in the chaotic anonymity of a dangerous frontier town. On a side note, I found the exploration of the racial and regional tensions following the aftermath of the Civil War/Reconstruction quite interesting too and not something I had thought much about when considering the Wild West. Highly recommended, even if you think the subject matter won't interest you. ( )
1 vote DorsVenabili | Sep 27, 2014 |
Doc Holiday becomes a very real, clever and a somewhat distraught character in this captivating novel. It is written in such great detail and historical perfection, that one must stay clear of distractions to absorb the brutal allure of this dusty, desolate time. The Earp brothers lives intertwine with Doc's, to bring a real Western meaty and gritty substance to the Georgian flair of Mr. Holiday. Excellent book, highly recommended. ( )
  tippygirl | Aug 19, 2014 |
DOC, Mary Doria Russell's novel of Doc Holliday in Dodge City, a couple years BEFORE the notorious shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, was, quite simply, a fascinating read.

Painstakingly researched and beautifully written, it was a book I hated to put down, but since it ran nearly 400 pages, I was forced to take breaks occasionally, which gave me time to consider all the historical and biographical information woven so expertly and seamlessly into the story of one year in the life of Dr. John Henry Holliday in wild and wooly Dodge City, Kansas. His early association with the Earp brothers and Bat Masterson is prominently featured, and we learn that Holliday was actually closer to Morgan Earp than he ever was to Wyatt, who is presented here as honest, humorless, stolid, dependable, and maybe just a bit on the dim side, if not illiterate. Younger brother Morgan, on the other hand, enjoyed books and often discussed Dostoevsky, Dickens and other writers with Doc, an educated 'southern gentleman' starved for such talk.

I've seen most of the movies about the Earps and Doc Holliday, and was a kid fan of the fifties TV show, "Wyatt Earp." ("Long live his fame / And long live his glory / And long may his story be told!")

Strong-jawed actor Hugh O'Brien as Wyatt Earp was presented as a dandy, with black frock coat, flat brimmed hat, string tie and gold brocade vest, etc. Well, according to Russell, that would better describe Dodge's Sherrif Bat Masterson, a short fat dandy who made money on the side by promoting, refereeing and betting on illegal bare-knuckle boxing matches outside the city limits. (And yeah, I remember actor Gene Barry too, tall, slim and miscast as Masterson in that TV show.) About the only thing the TV show got right about Wyatt was his stern, unsmiling demeanor, which, we learn from Russell, was partly because as a child he was brutally beaten by his violent father, leaving him without any front teeth.
Doc fixed this, by making Wyatt a bridge, finally allowing him to smile and even laugh a little without feeling self-conscious. (And didja know that such bridges and dental devices in those times (1878) were often fashioned from real human teeth gathered from the battlefields of the Civil War?) And remember that cool long-barreled Buntline Special six-shooter O'Brien's Wyatt packed? Nope. Pure fiction, according to Russell. (Shucks, all of us kids wanted one of those guns.)

A surprise character here, to me, was comic song-and-dance man, Eddie Foy, who was playing that year at the Comique ('Commie-Q') Saloon in Dodge. His inclusion in DOC brought back memories of that classic fifties film, THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS, starring Bob Hope as Foy.

So there is plenty of myth-busting by Russell in DOC, but it's handled in a most enjoyable and educational way. And didja know that Doc Holliday was actually a not-too-distant cousin of Margaret Mitchell, and that she actually used parts of the Holliday family history in writing GONE WITH THE WIND? Now THAT I found very interesting.

But the real, beating heart of DOC is found in the portrayal of his off-and-on years-long relationship with the fiery, high-born, highly educated, multi-lingual Hungarian prostitute, Maria Katarina Harony, or 'Kate.' Because the real John Henry Holliday is revealed in this relationship - the delicate boy who lost his mother to tuberculosis, the same insidious disease which would take Doc's own life after years of suffering. Doc and Kate were kindred souls who, by turns, comforted and tortured each other. And the scenes of Doc's 'bad spells' with the disease are disturbingly, graphically grim, as well as heartbreakingly ineffably sad, particularly when you know that it's a battle he cannot win.

But I go on and on, about a book that's already been reviewed and praised hundreds and hundreds of times. And most deservedly so. I absolutely LOVED this book and the way it made frontier Kansas come alive and countless disparate historical figures come together. Mary Doria Russell is one helluva writer. Very highly recommended. ( )
2 vote TimBazzett | Aug 17, 2014 |
western, 19th century, historical fiction, 2014, doc holliday ( )
  hemlock91 | Aug 8, 2014 |
To most people Doc Holliday is an infamous character from the Wild West who was immortalized by his actions during the shootout at the O.K. Corral. He’s been portrayed in countless films as a witty, but dangerous man. Russell’s novel strips away the exaggerations and reveals an incredible man with a depth and charm that knew no bounds.

If you pick this one up to read about Tombstone you’re sure to be disappointed. The story barely makes it into these pages, which is just as well. As much as I love the movie Tombstone, I was more curious about the real men and their stories outside of that single event. After we learn a bit about Doc’s childhood and his early diagnosis of Tuberculosis, we head west away from his Georgian roots. The bulk of the book takes places in Dodge City where Doc and the Earp brothers first met.

I read Russell’s unique and enthralling novel The Sparrow a couple years ago and though the premise is completely different, it contains the same style of writing. The author has an incredible talent for making each character feel like someone you know personally. In this book she carries you into the Wild West with her descriptions of dusty saloons and small town politics. People drink whiskey like it’s water and poker games are a nightly occurrence.

Her research is obvious, but she blends those facts with a wonderful narrative to create an irresistible story. She uncovers the man behind the myth and what you find is something even more interesting that the bigger than life gunmen. Doc was clever and kind, a true southern gentleman. Each of the conversations he has, both with friends and foes alike, are chess games. He was always thinking ahead to the next move. He was a dentist and a diplomat, a devoted friend and a pianist. His health was a constantly struggle, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing what he loved.

In addition to the title character, we get to meet Wyatt Earp and his brothers. They were all interesting, but Wyatt set himself apart with his strict moral code and stubborn nature. His turbulent childhood and the experience of becoming a widower at a young age only reinforced his private nature. Despite that he had a moral compass that most men lack and he gained the respect of the men who knew him because of it.

There are two scenes that were particularly memorable. One was a wake that Doc hosted for a young man in Dodge City. A strange, eclectic group gathers and has the most interesting discussions, all while waiting for their host to appear. There's a mild-mannered priest, a prostitute, an Irish theatrical performer, and more. The tension builds as we wait to meet Doc, an elusive figure up to that point. The second scene revolves around a newly tuned piano on a bittersweet night. Neither scene is crucially important to the story, it’s just a testament to Russell’s skill as an author that she can craft such unforgettable passages.

BOTTOM LINE: A treat from start to finish. If you already love Russell’s work, or if you love historical fiction or Tombstone or the Wild West, or just a great novel, this one is for you!

“We are none of us born into Eden," Doc said reasonably. "World's plenty evil when we get here. Question is, what's the best way to play a bad hand?"

“Home," he said softly. "If there is a more beautiful word in any language, I do not know it.” ( )
  bookworm12 | May 16, 2014 |
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For Art Nolan, who told me what Wyatt knew; for Eddie Nolan, who showed us what John Henry had to learn; for Alice McKey Holliday, who raised a fine young man; with thanks to Bob Price and Gretchen Batton.
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He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle.
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The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.

And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really begins—before Wyatt Earp is the prototype of the square-jawed, fearless lawman; before Doc Holliday is the quintessential frontier gambler; before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.

Authentic, moving, and witty, Mary Doria Russell’s fifth novel redefines these two towering figures of the American West.
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After the burned body of a mixed-blood boy, Johnnie Sanders, is discovered in 1878 Dodge City, Kansas, part-time policeman Wyatt Earp enlists the help of his professional-gambler friend Doc Holliday.

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