Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Doc - Book Review

"I'm your huckleberry."

Years ago, I saw Val Kilmer at an airport. That was the only thing--"I'm your huckleberry."--I could think of to say to him. Of course, I thought of it 30 seconds too late and didn't actually say anything.

In the movie Tombstone, Val Kilmer portrays the legendary character of Doc Holliday. It's a performance that I've been unable to forget. What a fascinating character.

In her latest novel, Doc, Mary Doria Russell, strips away the myths and lore surrounding one of Wild West's infamous characters and tells the story of John Henry Holliday, a young, sickly dentist from Georgia, who goes west in search of a cure to the tuberculosis that has already killed his mother.

Tired of life in Texas, J.H. Holliday and his girl Kate, head to Dodge City, Kansas. It's the end of the line for the cattle drives from Texas. Dodge City, full of vice and money and shifty politics, is the perfect place for a card sharp. While in Dodge, Doc sets up his dentist practice and meets the Earp brothers--with whom his name will be permanently linked in the pages of history.

Russell, an anthropologist, may be trying to present a more accurate picture of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp but the characters are only more rich and fully developed and believable in her version. Doc might not have been the gun slinging, cold-blooded, revenge-seeking man as he is generally portrayed (and even possibly became once they move on to Tombstone), but J.H. Holliday is still an intriguing anachronism. How does this highly educated, concert pianist, feeble gentleman fit in the rough and tawdry world that is Dodge City, Kansas? Using wit, skill at cards, unlikely friendships with the Earps and an undeserved reputation, Doc manages quite well.

I've had such a busy and fun week with multiple family get togethers and very late nights, but every chance I got, I slipped away to read this book. Russell is a gifted story teller. While some of the book, especially the beginning, reads more like a historical narrative, Russell does bring the characters to life. She also sets the stage for the inevitable action, by painting a detailed picture of Dodge and giving even the minor characters, such as the Chinese launderer, the Jesuit priest, the proper and beautiful belle of Dodge, and the various prostitutes personality and humanity. Seen through their eyes, Dodge City becomes more than just a Hollywood set of a dusty street of clapboard buildings.

Mary Doria Russell's novel Doc is a stand-out work of historical fiction and gave me a new perspective on this most fascinating character.

I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads.com in exchange for an honest review. No additonal compensation has been received.


Saimi said...

What a great book review! My husband and I love the movie Tombstone and yes Val Kilmore did a great job portraying Doc Holliday.

I just might have to pick up the book! Thanks!!

Grumpy Grateful Mom said...

I haven't seen that movie, but I think this book sounds great. What a fascinating time! I will have to remember it for when I get caught up with my book reading. :)

And, it's very cool you saw Val Kilmer at the airport.

Kristi @ PeetSwea said...

This book sounds really great - glad to hear that the characters are so rich. I too remember that line from Tombstone - funny how you remembered it just a few seconds too late when you saw Val Kilmer!

Myke Weber said...

I'll have to read this one. I have a geocache set up at a monument near his grave in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It is a beautiful cemetery set high on a hill. It is quite a climb to get there but the scene is worth it. The interesting thing is not just the monument, but what you find there. Always someone has adorned the place with tokens: A shot glass of whiskey, an ace of spades, a full house, a bullet, or a cigar. It's as if he's the Patron 'Aint of the vice crowd, who frequently climb there to leave an offering. You can visit the cache site and see for yourself: http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=a3addd1e-8e6c-4f44-8b74-6e527b603f45

There seems to be no organized effort to keep the shrine stocked with offerings but as you can see from the photos, it happens.