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Doc by Mary Doria Russell
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Aug 31, 12

Read in May, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1

There surely is an art to telling a good tale and it is clear that Mary Doria Russell has mastered it in her book Doc about the life of John Henry Holliday, also known as Doc Holliday. Russell has a friendly conversational tone to her writing that you might imagine from a favorite aunt or a close friend. She is able to impart meaning and see the best face of those around her without losing track of their faults. For her glimpse of her writing style here is the opening of the book, which may capture you as it did me:

"He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is 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.

When he arrived in Dodge City in 1878, Dr. John Henry Holliday was a frail twenty-six-tear-old dentist who wanted nothing grander than to practice his profession in a prosperous Kansas cow town. Hope_ cruelest of the evils that escaped Pandora's box _ smiled on him gently all that summer. While he lived in Dodge, the quiet life he yearned for seemed to lie within his grasp."

And so Mary Doria Russell walks us through John Henry Holliday's early life and into that magical summer in which hope sprang eternal. She deftly shapes the characters which populated that not so quiet cow town of Dodge City, 1878. We meet the Earps, James, Wyatt and Morgan, the dandified lawman, Bat Masterson, the ladies of the night, big nosed Kate, Bessie Bartlett Earp and Mattie Blaylock, and the merchants, Bob Wright, Ham Bell, Chalkie Beeson and Dog Kelly. We get a feel for the town with it's dust and it's dirt and raucus, noisy, shot-gun filled nights.

Mostly, Russell lets us peak into Doc Holliday's life and get a feel for the man himself with his hopes and dreams and the dreams which he has let go of but which haunt him still. I've read my share of westerns and indeed some about the the famous gunfight in Arizona and in it Holliday is always a one dimensional character without the depths and volume which Russell creates.

I loved this book and it left me wanting to read more of Russell's books and wanting to know more of the lives of Doc Holliday's land the Earps. I would recommend it highly.
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