A few years ago, I watched the movie, 'Tombstone' and was taken with Val Kilmer's interpretation of Doc Holliday. He perfectly captured the essence of this tuberculosis-ridden card-shark dentist. Even now I ask friends if they'd like to be 'my huckleberry'.
When I first heard about Mary Doria Russell's new novel, 'Doc', I just knew that I had to read it. I've been a fan of her sci-fi novels; 'The Sparrow' is brilliant, eerie, and strange; I wondered how 'Doc' fit into her basket. But when I learned about her upbringing and the fact that her father was a five-term sheriff of DuPage County, Illinois, my feelings were put to rest. She would certainly be suited to write a novel about the legendary gunman/gambler/dentist. Her research is impeccable; she knows her subject and the areas in which he lived.
I dived into the story and didn't come up for air.
Russell brings to life a man who came to fame via his involvement in the Gunfight at O.K. Corral (cue the 'Dun-dun-DUN'). But Doc is so much more than that. A classically-educated child born in the South with a fiercely devoted mother, and a sufferer of tuberculosis almost his entire life, Holliday moves to the dry West in order to alleviate the symptoms of his illness. He takes up with a prostitute, Maria Katarina Harony, who knows her way around the card tables and can quote Latin classics as well as him. It is in Dodge City where Doc meets Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. It is life before the fame and notoriety, before their inclusion in Western mythology.
This book, however, is Doc's story. His beginnings, his heartbreaks, his illness. It is written with great compassion and humor and should be considered one of Russell's finest novels.
I will gently set this wonderful novel on my bookshelf next to Russell's other books. And I will most certainly count on reading it again.