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Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Doc (edition 2012)

by Mary Doria Russell

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85011010,560 (4.12)524
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 wouldn't have expected that Mary Doria Russell, who burst on to the scene with a pair of (excellent) novels about Jesuits in space and followed up with the story of fighters in the Italian Resistance, to write a Western about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. But here it is, and it's wonderful: vivid, complete, moving, and always interesting. Her take on the situation is that the legend of Doc Holliday, gambler and steely killer of men, was a fiction created by Bat Masterson, a man eager for riches and acclaim because he had no character of his own. The real Doc, she argues, was a gentleman and a scholar whose affinity for drink and low company was mostly an accident of circumstance. Similarly, the Wyatt Earp we meet here, while capable of violence, is a paragon of decency and restraint in a mean and dangerous world. Seeing Doc and Wyatt build their friendship and succeed against odds in navigating the brutal environment around them is a tremendous pleasure. And I'd say that this way of looking at Earp and Holliday is a critical step in forming an educated opinion about them. Not to mention that "Doc" is a refreshing change from the usual bullets-and-blood, hypermasculine way of looking at the Old West.

My issue with the book, which I mention in the regretful spirit of someone who acknowledges the defects of a close friend, is that there's so little real villainy in it. In Russell's view, it seems, evil arises from weakness of character; it's ultimately pathetic instead of fearsome. In "Doc," the bad guys aren't strong and scary, but venal and manipulative. There's no Jack Palance in black, better at shooting than anyone else and eager to kill for the pleasure of killing; just merchants, imposters, and petty outlaws. And the good guys are better than they have any right to be, given the serious faults of the society that produced them. I adore the prickly, righteous Doc Holliday of "Doc," who's so free of racial prejudice that he's ready to fight a Catholic priest (!) whom he believes is slandering the memory of a dead black teenager. But is it realistic to believe that a man raised by a genteel family in antebellum Georgia can be so perfectly pure of heart?

Regardless, this is a must-read for anyone who's ever enjoyed "Tombstone," "Shane," or a book by Larry McMurtry. Russell came out with a sequel this year that by all accounts is epic in the original sense of the word. I can't wait to read it. ( )
  john.cooper | Oct 19, 2015 |
I really liked this book. "He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosisis 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.

This much is sure. If Kate hadn't gone back to Doc Holliday on the afternoon of June 10k 1878, you never would have heard of him. You wouldn't know the names of Wyatt Earp or any of his brothers. The Clantons and McLaurys would be utterly forgotten and Tombstone would be nothing more than an Arizona ghost town with an ironic name. Too late now.

This covers Holliday's early life before and after he met the Earps in Kansas before they all left for Arizona.
  taurus27 | Oct 3, 2015 |
What fine storytelling! Meticulous attention to details of every kind as well from dentistry to poker, bare knuckle boxing to period clothing . . . I was struck too, by the fact there was a whole group of people, like the Earps who made their lives out of staying ahead of 'civilization,' both profiting from the chaos of the newly settled and unable to live within a more domesticated environment. ( )
  sibyx | Aug 18, 2015 |
The critic of The Washington Post named this as one of the best fiction books of 2010, which was my reason for reading it. I really don't think I agree with him. I almost gave the book three stars, but when I looked at other books that merited three stars in my reviews, this one was lacking. This novel is the story of Doc Holliday of TV and OK Corral fame. Wyatt Earp and his brothers and Bat Masterson are also major characters in the novel. I admit that my knowledge of these individuals is limited by the 1960's Westerns that were a major part of my television viewing at that time. I guess I just found the book rather boring. There were way too many descriptions of Doc’s consumptive coughs and blood filled handkerchiefs. (Did he have tuberculosis in the TV show? I was rather young at the time, but I also do not remember that “Doc” referred to his profession as a dentist, not an M.D.) I would only recommend this book if you are a true fan of Westerns and enjoy reading about cowboys living it up in the brothels and saloons of Dodge City after a long cattle drive. ( )
  TheresaCIncinnati | Aug 17, 2015 |
Yes, this is every bit as good as all the warblers say it is. The story of John Henry Holliday (Doc, we always call him), the legendary gun-fighter who really wasn't one, but who could by God shoot, among other things. The first sentences of the book set the tone, and tell the reader what to expect... "He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle. The disease took 15 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." This is the story of that season, Doc's days in Dodge, where he practiced some real fine dentistry, dealt a ruthless game of faro to keep money in his pocket, forged an uneasy friendship with Wyatt Earp and shared his love of classic literature and music with Kate Harony, a prostitute of possibly noble Hungarian heritage. He also learned to Live as much as his stricken lungs would allow, and pursued the truth about the death of a young boy whose fate no one else seemed to care about. However many versions of the Earp/Holliday legend you've read or seen, I guarantee Russell's characterizations will blank those others right out, and THIS is what you will believe about these men. No Val Kilmer, no Kurt Russell, no Hugh O'Brian, no Cesar Romero, no Kirk Douglas...the real deal in my mind now and forever more will live in the pages of Doc. And, btw, this woman can tell a story. I'm thrilled she turned her talents to this one. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Aug 14, 2015 |
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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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Book description
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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