Friday, October 23, 2015
Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russel
I'm going to make a confession: the only "western" I ever found tolerable before was a space western laced with Browncoats, Mandarin, and pretty floral bonnets. I did not go into Doc: A Novel expecting to enjoy it.
But. I. Did.
Doc is the story of John Henry Holliday ("Doc" to his friends and tale spinners) as he wrestles with mortality and the harsh circumstances of life in Dodge City. It's also about the Earp brothers: Wyatt, who's looking for a way into a better life after years wandering the West working temp jobs in law enforcement. Morgan, who loves every minute of life and brings joy to his friends and family. James, living in the grey area between the law and what the law is becoming in the face of the temperance movement in the West. It's a story spun from the "they weren't who we were told they were," genre of historical fiction, and Russell executes it beautifully.
I don't like to throw around cliche terminology about novels like "lushly written" and "complex characters" and "freaking amazing," but all three apply in this case in spades (see what I did there?). I can't speak for the historical accuracy of what's written, but the author does a great job in the beginning of establishing who was an actual character in the Old West and who she fabricated, but by the end of it I didn't even care about historical accuracy. The characters felt like dysfunctional family, and though I knew the inevitable end of the story (in Tombstone for some, in illness for others), the journey to get there was the real romp. One man's murder brings all the key players in Dodge together, one way or another, and their relationships with each other and themselves are what made this book an amazing read for me.
Western? Yes. Great fiction? Yes. Do I have a little crush on the Doc? Um, yes. A great read!