Becca's Reviews > Doc

Doc by Mary Doria Russell
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's review
Apr 09, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: historic-fiction, western
Read in March, 2012 — I own a copy , read count: 1

I am NOT the sort of person who reads or watches Westerns. I vaguely knew Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, The OK Corral and "Get out of Dodge" as concepts, but I could probably only give you a 50-50 bet on whether they were fictional or not, and I certainly had no clue that they were connected. That the OK Corral was a shootout completely exhausts my a priori knowledge of all things Western.

But, Mary Doria Russell is one of those authors for me. If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, it would probably be The Sparrow, so I wasn't going to let something like a genre get in my way. That was a good move on my part. Doc is filled with rich, vivid characters. None of them are better than they ought to be, but none of them are caricatured lawless villains either. Doc is my favorite - quiet, quick to take insult, but quicker still to lend a helping hand, proud and frail, but simple, virtuous Wyatt and temperamental, brilliant, very rarely tender Kate are also beautifully depicted. To say nothing of a host of supporting characters.

I am, by nature, partial to cleft lip/palate stories, and Russell's description of Holliday's cleft repair and his diction difficulties following is precision embodied. It goes without saying, given that Russell taught anatomy at my own alma mater, that her treatment of historical dentistry leaves nothing to be desired. This is, after all, a Russell novel, so it is meticulous in detail, flawlessly researched, accurate to a T.

Of course, there are original characters, who, of course, include a Jesuit and multi-ethnic characters who challenge our understanding of race and racial relations. These characters flirt with being a little too perfect, especially in light of their historic setting, but overall add to the flavor (shockingly, there is no unlikely Jew of even more unlikely ethnic extraction. I kept waiting for it.)

My only criticism is that, for people like me who come naive to Westerns, the book almost completely omits the OK Corral and the events directly leading up to it. Since it represents everything I will ever know about the genre, probably for the rest of my life, I would have liked Russell's take on that central piece of the Doc Holliday mythos. Nonetheless, it is by far the best book I have read that heavily features Nevadan prostitutes this month (*cough* The Lonely Polygamist *cough*_

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