Doc: a Novel by Mary Doria Russell


The central figures in this novel are all familiar, having been the subjects of countless pulp fiction novels, TV shows, and movies.  And some of the events are "known" to us, the wild times in Dodge City, where the cowboys brought the cattle to market and themselves to drink, gamble, and visit prostitutes.  And the event looming over this story, the gunfight at OK corral in Tombstone.  Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Bat Masterson are figures we expect.  But Eddie Foy, a vaudeville comedian, appears in the story, and he is vaguely familiar, but unexpected in this context.  This novel required lots of visits to our friends at Wikipedia.  The characters, wholly fictional or just fictionalized, were intriguing.  What a treat this novel is!

Doc came from a refined Southern background; his mother died of TB early.  She was devoted to him and taught him music and languages.  He learned dentistry, but developed TB as a young man.  He eventually moved to Kansas in search of dry air.  In the dusty cattle town of Dodge City he became a gambler and learned to work his way through the pain in his chest with bourbon. 

The action in this novel occurs in Dodge City around 1878 and we get to know the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Morgan, and James, as well as the nattily-dressed Bat Masterson.  Kate, who had grown up at the court of Maximillian in Mexico and had fallen on hard times, was a multi-lingual prostitute who lived with Doc.  According to Wikipedia, she apparently had some role in the famous gunfight at OK corral in 1881; she lived until 1950.  

As Dodge City was becoming less lawless and more civilized, it was clear that the lawmen who worked on a seasonal basis and the gamblers had to move on.  The novel ends before they go to Tombstone; three cowboys were killed in this famous gunfight and two Earp brothers and Doc Holliday were wounded.  The Earps and Doc were charged with murder, but exonerated.  Vendettas continued for some years.  Doc died in 1887 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado where he went in hopes of a cure for his consumption.

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