Thursday, May 25, 2017

Heard: "Doc" by Mary Doria Russell

Heard: Doc by Mary Doria Russell, 2011, downloaded from

Russell is an author with some real talent. She has a strong perception of people's thoughts and experiences and writes about them very well. I presume she has a lot of brain power because some parts of the book really impressed me, and the writing sucked me in as she dug into the characters. She did an excellent job presenting the characters from the perspectives of others and then revealing the individual character's personal history and motivations that drove their actions. Russell character's are convincing and fully believable. But, I prefer more action.

Russell's forward - or was it the afterword - addresses the issues of accuracy in historical fiction and how sometimes fiction is more truthful and accurate. Russell was able to rely on several historical sources include a recent book written by a Holliday relative who had access to a number of family docs.

Short: John Henry "Doc" Holliday ends in Dodge City in 1878 to grab some of the cattle money flowing through town. He makes friends with a couple Earp brothers, fights with his girlfriend, and coughs up blood.

Long: Holliday loved his family in Georgia. He was very attached to his caring mother who died of tuberculosis and, after his grouchy father remarried, Holliday went to live with extended family. He later attended dental school in Philadelphia and opened a practice in Georgia under the eye of a dentist relative. Then Holliday himself caught TB, headed to Dallas, Texas for the dry-ish air, and joined a dental practice in Dallas.

Holliday's cousins used to play cards all the time as children and Holliday became a skilled dealer so he starts gambling in Dallas after the dental work does not pan out. Holliday's gambling gets him in trouble. Holliday hooks up with Big Nose Kate. Kate and Holliday drift a bit and end up in western Kansas for cattle trail money.

Things happen. We follow Wyatt Earp, Kate, Holliday, Morgan Earp and many other characters in Dodge as they live their lives in 1878. Dodge City is a small community that exists solely for the cattle yards and railroad. There are bars, restaurants, and hotels. No school because there are few kids. Most people are under thirty years of age and most women are prostitutes. The few families are mostly Germans farming outside of town.

The city is dangerous and when Wyatt comes back into town he is hired as undersheriff. Wyatt conks some people on the head. Doc starts up his dental practice and loves the work. Doc has an important skill and education that helps people. But, his disease and coughing make the work difficult, and then impossible. Never mind that dental work can be expensive for the customer.

More things happen and several characters leave Dodge for greener grass and cash.

1. Everyone is young. This is something that gets missed by movies and TV. Doc is 27-years-old in 1878. Wyatt is 30. Bat Masterson is 25-years-old. Ed Masterson was 26 when killed in Dodge.
2. I did not know Holliday practiced in Texas and Kansas.
3. Your better as surviving if you are white and protestant.
4. My only time in Dodge has been driving through. The first time was driving a Ryder truck. I had a full load of stuff as we were moving from Kansas to Arizona - not unlike the Earps I suppose. I was coming up to an intersection when the light turned yellow. I was afraid to brake too hard and end up halfway in the intersection and with the load shifting all over the truck.  A local officer pulled me over and gave me a warning. He did not 'buffalo' me with a pistol whip to the head. I told the guy I'd be more careful and, by God, I was more careful.
EDIT, May 26: Man oh man. I reread this post and it was full of typos and half-assed sentences. Heck, it probably still is full of typoss and half-assed sentences don't awful.


Mathew Paust said...

I didn't see no typos, Gerard, and if there were any they didn't hang me up. I enjoyed your review. Am wondering if this is straight bio or a fictionalized treatment. I want to read it either way.

Gerard Saylor said...

Fictionalized. Russell treats Doc as a dentist and gambler, not the gunfighter people call him. He's a bit self-destructive and drinks like a fish to self medicate the pain and suppress his cough.