My review #38 of: Doc



Mary Doria RUSSELL

389 pages

First, I’m going to try another format for my reviews: I have discovered that I was always looking FIRST at what reviewers THOUGHT about a book, as I usually have already a vague idea about the book, so I thought maybe you would expect the same. Tell me what you think.


And this time, my thoughts are going to be in the form of an interview, as both my husband and I read the same book at the same time!

First, why did you read Doc?

H: I love and am interested in stories having to do with the West. There’s an iconic relationship between Wyatt and Doc, but the real relationship is between Morgan and Doc; and I’m interested as wll in the relationship between Kate and Doc, because of the movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral; I wanted to see how this was narrated. It is actually different from the movie: we have 2 broken people who in their own crazy and dysfunctional way support and take care of each other. It shows that brokenness can lead to mutual understanding of things.

Me: Mary Doria Russell is one of my favorite female writers, probably my top favorite actually, so I try to read everything she publishes. I was also curious to see how she was doing with an altogether different style from the Sparrow, or her other books related to history, but on other continents, such as A Thread of Grace or Dreamers of the Day.

What did you like most in the book?

H: The character development: you get to know them, you really get into them. They are not shown as all bad/all good. The good have flaws, and the bad have their own virtues. That’s real life. I prefer the way Kate and Doc are presented here than in the movie: in the movie, Kate is not cultured, but she actually was, and very much so. I enjoyed seeing how people manage in very difficult situations, different from their original backgrounds – I’m thinking here about Kate

Me: To tell the truth, it maybe the book by Russell I liked less, I had a hard time getting into it, I guess because I had expectations, and wrong expectations; for instance, I was expecting lots of action, and the fight of the OK Corral, always wrongly thinking it was going to be at the corner. Russell is excellent at character development –  who can forget Emilio Sandoz in The Sparrow? But in all her other books, there was much more action as well, I think.
I thought it was very very very slow. And then it made me think; I actually felt just as in my favorite movie ever: High Noon. I find here the same type of suspense, of time suspended. And I realized it had to be of course very intentional. I think you can feel the heaviness of the heat, the slow pace of  people – the West did NOT have the 2011 Chicago pace for sure. People take time to live. Things and people need time to evolve. You can feel this very much in the whole book. So I ended up liking very much this ambiance.

Any favorite passage in the book?

H: Near the end, when Doc plays the Emperor at the piano. Also a quote “without hope without fear”: both project you  in the future. But when Doc lives in the present moment, he’s fine and happy – see when he plays the Emperor, he’s totally into it. And the author helps to mythologize the old West, and shows the grittiness of the reality – very different from TV shows!

Me: The scene when Doc plays the Emperor was also so fascinating. Russell has some amazing descriptions, here and here and there in the book, of people or landscape, fascinating little touches, worthy of a real artist that she is.

Anything you did NOT like?

H: No.

Me: The slow pace, before I realized that was all part of the deal and intention. It really sets the tone, and makes you feel you are there. Actually, there are probably lots oft hings I did not totally understand in the relationships, there’s a lot of things hinted at, and not explicitly revealed, and I probably missed a lot and was not allowed then to appreciate the book at its full value.

Were you expecting the Fight of the OK Corral?

H: Not really, I had the feeling it would not be the major point anyway. I’m not disappointed, anyway it took only 30 seconds.


The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.

Beautifully educated, born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday is given an awful choice at the age of twenty-two: die within months in Atlanta or leave everyone and everything he loves in the hope that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Young, scared, lonely, and sick, he arrives on the rawest edge of the Texas frontier just as an economic crash wrecks the dreams of a nation. Soon, with few alternatives open to him, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally; he is also living with Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung Hungarian whore with dazzling turquoise eyes, who can quote Latin classics right back at him. Kate makes it her business to find Doc the high-stakes poker games that will support them both in high style. It is Kate who insists that the couple travel to Dodge City, because “that’s where the money is.”

And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really begins—before Wyatt Earp is the prototype of the square-jawed, fearless lawman; before Doc Holliday is the quintessential frontier gambler; before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.

Authentic, moving, and witty, Mary Doria Russell’s fifth novel redefines these two towering figures of the American West and brings to life an extraordinary cast of historical characters, including Holliday’s unforgettable companion, Kate. First and last, however, Doc is John Henry Holliday’s story, written with compassion, humor, and respect by one of our greatest contemporary storytellers. [Goodreads]


Mary Doria Russell is the award-winning author of four previous bestsellers: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, and Dreamers of the Day. Widely praised for her meticulous research, fine prose, and compelling narrative drive, Russell is uniquely suited to telling the story of the lawman Wyatt Earp and the dental surgeon John Henry Holliday. The daughter of Dick Doria, five-term sheriff of Dupage County, Illinois, Mary grew up with guns and cops but she also holds a doctorate in biological anthropology and taught gross anatomy at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry before she left academe to write.  [amazon]


“Fact and mythmaking converge as Russell creates a Dodge City filled with nuggets of surprising history, a city so alive readers can smell the sawdust and hear the tinkling of saloon pianos…Filled with action and humor yet philosophically rich and deeply moving—a magnificent read.” -Kirkus

There’s a letter by the author about Doc here.




4 thoughts on “My review #38 of: Doc

  1. Pingback: Read in May 2011 « Words And Peace

  2. I love how you did this review with your husband. My husband doesn’t read much but he actually does want to read this one – I hope he likes it, though I doubt he’ll love it as much as I did.

    Funny, I didn’t find it to be slow. It didn’t have that overhanging sense of dread like in THE SPARROW but I felt like the pace worked well.


    • looking forward to you interviewing your husband on that book! Maybe I felt it slow because I was so stupidly waiting for the OK corral!! The Sparrow – Fr Emilio is one character I still feel like he’s alive and I know him, and I read this book at least 5 years ago. She’s soooo good at characters


  3. Pingback: Book Club: 10 titles for our January meeting | Words And Peace

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