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Doc: A Novel Paperback – March 6, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 548 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Letter from Author Mary Doria Russell
For the past three years, when people asked what my next novel is about, I've only had to say four words. “It's about Doc Holliday.” You mention Doc Holliday to guys especially and they just light up. “Oh, man! I love Doc!” they say, and they often mention Val Kilmer's portrayal in the movie Tombstone.

I love that movie, too, but when I write characters, I'm really writing about whom and what they love. The shining silver wire that runs through Doc is John Henry Holliday's love for his mother.

Alice Holliday was 22 when her son was born near Atlanta in the summer of 1851. She was still in mourning for her firstborn, “a sweet little girl who lived just long enough to gaze and smile and laugh, and break her parents' hearts.” I'm sure you can imagine her distress when her second child was born with a cleft palate and cleft lip. Even today, when you know clefts can be repaired, they're a shock.

In 1851, such children commonly died within weeks, but Alice kept her boy alive, waking every hour to feed him with an eyedropper, day and night, for eight long weeks. Think about that exhausted young woman and the baby with the hole in his face. Locking eyes. Struggling to stay awake. Struggling to stay alive...

When the infant was two months old, his uncle Dr. John Stiles Holliday performed a successful surgical repair of the cleft--an achievement kept private to protect the family's reputation. You see, in the 1850s, the Hollidays were Georgia gentry whose large extended family would become the O'Haras, Wilkeses and Hamiltons in Gone With The Wind. (Margaret Mitchell was Doc's cousin, twice removed.) These were people who took “good breeding” seriously, and birth defects were a source of familial shame--for everyone but Alice.

Alice and her son became intensely close. She invented a form of speech therapy to correct his diction. She was a piano teacher who introduced him to the music that would become their great shared passion. She home-schooled him until she was sure his speech wouldn't be ridiculed, then sent him to a local boys academy, where he excelled in every subject. In the midst of our nation's ugliest war, she raised a shy, intelligent child to be a thoughtful, courteous gentleman and a fine young scholar who would earn the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery before he was 21.

Alice didn't live to see him graduate. She died of tuberculosis when John Henry was 15. The loss was staggering, and when he, too, developed TB, he knew exactly what kind of awful death he faced. Hoping dry air and sunshine would restore his health, he left everyone and everything he loved, and went West. He was only 22 when he left Atlanta in 1873.

The Doc Holliday of legend is a gambler and gunman who appears out of nowhere in 1881, arriving in Tombstone with a bad reputation and a hooker named Big Nose Kate. But I have written the story of Alice Holliday's son: a scared, sick, lonely boy, born for the life of a minor aristocrat in a world that ceased to exist at the end of the Civil War, trying to stay alive on the rawest edge of the American frontier.

John Henry Holliday didn't have a mother to love him when he was grown, so I have taken him for my own. My fondest hope for Doc is that it will win for him the compassion and respect I think he deserves. Read it, and weep.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“If I had a six-shooter, I’d be firing it off in celebration of Doc . . . a deeply sympathetic, aggressively researched and wonderfully entertaining story.”—The Washington Post
 
“A magnificent read . . . filled with action and humor yet philosophically rich and deeply moving . . . more realistic yet more riveting than any movie or TV western . . . Doc Holliday is the tragic hero in this terrific bio-epic. . . . Losing their mythic, heroic sheen, figures like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson become more captivating for their complexity.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Intense, individual characters, so fully realized that readers can almost physically touch them, fill the novel’s pages . . . Doc’s restrained but magnificent struggle to rise above the indignities of his disease and of life in Dodge . . . is one of the delights of this surprisingly luminous and elegant novel.”—The Oregonian
 
“Fascinating . . . Russell’s women are a match for any of the men in Dodge, and their presence at the center of Doc gives the novel an unforced verisimilitude.”—The Plain Dealer
 
“Intoxicating . . . Doc reads like a movie you can’t wait to watch.”—The Seattle Times
 
“Grabs us from the opening sentence . . . Russell makes the narrative hum and the characters come alive.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“Well-written and provocative, Doc is a book that will haunt you.”—Historical Novels Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 411 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081298000X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812980004
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (548 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Lins TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm a huge Mary Doria Russell fan, BUT not so much a fan of "westerns"...so it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached reading and reviewing Russell's latest novel, "Doc", which takes place in Dodge City, Kansas in the late 1870s and with the legendary (and largely mythical) characters of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, etc. The eventual events in Arizona at the O.K. Corral are alluded to, but not the focus of this novel.

I needn't have worried, it is Russell's wonderful writing and thorough research that makes any subject interesting and accessible. She clearly revels in the research because hers is meticulous; she makes the "wild west" come alive in surprisingly non-stereotypical ways. Clearly she made an effort to separate the myth and legend of Doc Holliday from the truer (and more interesting) tale.

Set primarily in the summer of 1878, the story begins with Doc and his lady-love/prostitute, Kate, who are in Dodge City so that Doc can make enough money gambling to open a legitimate dentistry practice. Descriptions are vivid and fascinating of the riotous activity and carnival atmosphere in a town full of gambling houses and brothels and ignorant but newly rich cowboys. Russell paints a vivid picture of the burgeoning civilization coming to the "wild west" and I found her descriptions of the various denizens of Dodge at the cusp between wildness and civility to be fascinating. She provides the point of view for farmers, cowboys, lawmen, prostitutes and businessmen. Scenes in Doc's dentistry office are illuminating of early dentistry.

A young mixed race man, Johnnie Sanders, friend to both Doc and Wyatt Earp is killed.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp are firmly established in the pantheon of Wild West legends, along with Jesse James and Billy the Kid. So many books have been written about them, fiction and nonfiction, that it may seem odd to find another novel based on one of these gunslingers. It must be their legendary status that draws the attention of writers. Widespread familiarity with the legend becomes the writer's base, and the chance to reinvent or reinterpret an icon has an undeniable appeal. In Doc, Russell embraces the challenge of making the familiar seem new with surprising success.

Behind every legend there's a person, and it is the person, not the gunfighter, that Mary Doria Russell imagines in her story of Doc Holliday's time in Dodge City. Russell underplays the novel's armed confrontations while taking note of how legends build, how tall tales grow: an incident involving six cowboys evolves in the telling until Holliday faces down two dozen. Ultimately Russell deconstructs the legend, deemphasizing Holliday's skills as a gunfighter/gambler while painting a detailed picture of a loquacious, consumptive dentist who seems always a step away from death. The plot, such as it is, involves the apparent murder of an entirely fictitious character, a friend of Holliday and Wyatt Earp, but the mystery of his death is merely a vehicle to drive a deeper story. It isn't the familiar story of the O.K. Corral and Wyatt Earp's confrontation with the Clantons; the novel makes reference to those events in a concluding chapter, but the story effectively ends in Dodge City, before the Earp brothers and Holliday make their way to Tombstone.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Although "Doc" was my first exposure to Mary Doria Russell, it will not be my last. Her writing flows beautifully. It is vividly descriptive as she sets the scenes, develops believable characters and sensuously draws the reader in.

Much of the story is true, but the book is a historical fiction about the life and times of John Henry Holliday, known in real life for his association with the Earp brothers-- Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil and James. He and the Earps are most famous for their 30-second shootout at the O.K. Corral with the Clanton and McLaury brothers in Tombstone, Arizona at 3 p.m. on October 26, 1881, but that is not the focus of "Doc." In fact, the author credits William Barkley "Bat" Masterson with exaggerating and making up dime store novels for personal gain that resulted in Holliday's reputation as a gunslinger and cold blooded killer.

Doc was born on August 12, 1851 in Griffin Georgia in a wealthy family, graduated from Dental Surgery School in Atlanta and opened up an office with a partner in 1872; however, like his mother John was inflicted with consumption (tuberculosis), was given a poor prognosis and encouraged to move to a more arid climate. He moved to Dallas, Texas, Dodge City, Kansas and later Tombstone, Arizona.

The story is primarily about Doc Holliday's long impending struggle with living his adult life as his debilitating disease slowly destroyed his lungs and finally kill him on November 8, 1887. The story describes a man of many facets--a dentist, a gambler, an accomplished piano player, a horseman, an alcoholic, extremely educated, quick tempered, a loyal friend, a friend of the oppressed, and an amazing human being.
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