Thursday, December 1, 2016


Doc by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

Doc is a fictional retelling of the life of John Henry “Doc” Holliday, he of the gunfight at OK corral fame. It is based on family memoirs, and covers his life before the gunfight. We see his childhood in Georgia, as the son of a wealthy plantation owner, and follow him though his teens and twenties as his tuberculosis advances. This is sometimes painful to read, as we see his suffering at the hands of this horrific disease, which was incurable in those days. I felt a bit of a dark shadow over all the events, knowing the eventual outcome. (And many of the descriptions of his illness are quite graphic - not for the squeamish!)

Mary Doria Russell is a wonderful writer, and in this book she manages to capture the personalities of a myriad of characters: Doc, the Earp brothers, Kate (Doc’s mistress), and various people in the town of Dodge City, where the majority of the book takes place. I enjoyed getting a bit of background on the Earps, especially, and discovering how very different each brother was, and learning what shaped them into the men they became. Wyatt Earp is the brother that is most deeply explored, and the relationship between Doc and Wyatt is developed quite richly.

Russell has the ability to bring the “Wild West” to life, without glorifying it. Dodge City is a dirty, rowdy, dangerous mess, with politics affecting everyone who lives and visits there. Secondary characters are never simply caricatures, but are made real through little details of personality and background. Every person in this book is a fully realized person, which adds to the rich tapestry of the storyline.

All that being said, this was not as deeply moving as The Sparrow - at least for me. The book was well-researched and well-written, but it doesn’t have the philosophical depth of The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great piece of historical fiction! But it didn’t “grab” me emotionally. It may be because I held myself at a bit of a distance from Doc, because I knew he would die, and therefore was not as emotionally invested as I could have been. It certainly isn’t any fault of Russell’s writing or research. This is an excellent book - it just didn’t quite hit home for me. But for anyone who is interested in the real “Wild West” and the people who shaped it, this is a worthy addition to the genre.

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