Doc by Mary Doria Russell, read by Mark Bramhall
My dad loved the old westerns on TV. I grew up watching Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickok, Kit Carson, the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, and all the rest. It took me forever to sort out who was real and who was fictional.
It helps that I enjoy reading American history and I especially like the fictionalized history -- stories that are true to the facts and embellish them with a bit of well congered-up fiction to give the stories a little life.
Given all that, I took up this the biography of Doc Holliday with some anticipation.
I remember Doc Holliday mostly and the older, vaguely disreputable pal of Wyatt Earp, the handsome TV marshal of Dodge City. I think Matt Dillon also had a Doc and I probably have confused attributes of the two shows.
It hardly matters because neither character had the barest resemblance to the
John Henry Holliday was, in fact, a well-educated man from a good family in Georgia. When he was about 21, he contracted tuberculosis and that defined the 15 years of his life.
Doc was already a fairly successful dentist by the age of 26 when he had to give up his practice and move west in the hope of finding a climate that might support his increasingly failing health.
He ended up in Dodge City where his life -- and the legend -- became forever entwined with Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Bat Masterson, and other historical figures.
This book, like other historical novels, goes beyond the task of telling us something a bit truer about lionized and largely misrepresented historical characters. In fact, the ironic truth of the best of these stories is that much of the mundane truth is more fantastic and amazing the the fantacy.
They also give us some insight into a truly astonishing part of our history. In this book as in others about such characters as Kit Carson (Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides) and Calamity Jane (Buffalo Gals by Larry McMurtry), you see the old west as something rougher and scarier and yet somehow kinder and more hopeful.
This book is well written and well researched and the story of Doc Holliday's struggle to survive and live a good life is compelling. Holliday was also a man of high morals and strong ideals. In many ways, he embodies some of the best of the American spirit. If you are an American History buff or if you just like a strong, moving story about the human struggle, this is a good good book.