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Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Doc (edition 2012)

by Mary Doria Russell

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7439212,532 (4.12)409
Authors:Mary Doria Russell
Info:Ballantine Books (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library

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Doc by Mary Doria Russell


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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 |
Great book. Well written. Really enjoyed this. ( )
  KarenHerndon | Apr 1, 2014 |
Doc is Mary Doria Russell's attempt to write about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp as they might have been—from what little I know of the history of the American West, she seems to play a little loose with the historical truth at times, but it's all in service of a wonderful evocation of time, place and character. The novel concentrates mostly on the time spent by the men and their circle of family and friends in Dodge City, Kansas, in the late 1870s, long before they ever heard of the O.K. Corrall. The Holliday and Earp evoked here are both memorable characters, but I especially appreciated that Russell also spent a lot of time surrounding them with fully-fleshed out female characters. The one thing I didn't so much care for was that the novel's plot, such as it is, comes from the murder of a teenage boy, John Horse Sanders, who is of both Black and Seminole descent. While it's undeniable that it was tough to be non-white in that time and place, I wanted more of a presence for non-white characters as something other than a means of showing the (relative) nobility of some white men. ( )
  siriaeve | Mar 12, 2014 |
It's a fine book. She is a terrific writer. Still, it's not my favorite Mary Doria Russell novel (probably because I am not a huge fan of historical westerns). I appreciated the effort made to raise the characters out of the caricatures that popular media and myth have rendered them. I found myself quite enjoying getting to know them. ( )
  m2snick | Feb 19, 2014 |
A wonderful read - by an author who weaves enough period details and rich characterizations of these mythological gunslingers and heroes of our wild West pastto make us believe in her version! Throughout the book I was struck how the author was able to fully realize a human Dr. John Henry Holliday, from his Southern upbringing and early tragedies, to his ongoing battle with the dreaded 'consumption', TB, to his travels west which led him to Dodge City and his long partnership with Kate, the Hungarian whore and gambler who loved him but routinely left him. Through the author's emphasis on Doc's intense pride and dedication to his great gifts: dentistry and cards, we come to admire his long standing battle with his painful, dreadful disease. Here in full detail is the roughhewn Western cowtown, full of farmers, business owners, cowboys, saloon keepers, prostitutes, sheriffs, and especially the politicians of these barely civilized towns. A reader looking for the legendary showdown of OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ, should read other accounts for this isn't the focus of Russell's novel. Yet by the end of the novel, when Doc's later years are summarized, we feel somehow that we can better appreciate all the characters of that notorious event at the OK Corral- Doc, frightfully ill but stalwart in a fight, Wyatt Earp, always fearless, his brother Morgan (in this novel's telling, much closer to Doc than Wyatt), Bat Masterson, and the others. ( )
  BDartnall | Feb 12, 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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