Born and raised in Montana and Wyoming, at 56, I have heard the folklore and fairy tales of famous outlaws and heroes all my life. I shunned them. Why? Because every character from Wyatt Earp to Doc Holliday were bequeathed accolades of total virtue or vile inhumanity. Wild west tales thrived on provocative lore. Mary Doria Russell dispels the myth of Doc Holliday, leaving in it's wake a man; a real human being. Wyatt Earp and his brothers, and all the characters of "Tombstone," are not paraded out in this novel; like a fine trained archeologist the author digs for the facts, presenting them in a flowing, descriptive, text that ignites the fire within the reader for truth in all it's forms.
Birthed in the South, John Henry Holliday was given music, books, Catholic ideals and culture that money and affluence afforded the wealthy. He acquired the chivalry, the finesse of a Southern gentlemen, and due to his genius for learning, a dental license from the finest schools in the East. Holliday's Fate appeared sealed; his life would be that of an educated Southern aristocrat who worked in civil employment, married and raised his children to do the same. Sadly, however, Fate is a faithless mistress.
With the Civil War, John's life takes a devastating detour. The family fortune is scalped, thus leaving young Holliday a sickly-ridden(tuberculosis),lonesome man in search of a new destiny. Fate affords young John a residence in Dodge City, Kansas, a wild, untamed frontier that has little encouragement for the pale, gaunt, educated man knocking at it's door. "Doc," as he became nicknamed, used alcohol to numb the perpetual pain of coughing and screaming aches, as laudanum made him too confused. Card dealing(learned in the parlors of plantations for amusement) provided a roof and sustenance; a prostitute, Kate, whose own Fate was skewered, became his paramour. Fate attempts to demand we display ourselves as victims or victors, but, often, it is a combination of both that writes our legacies. Thus is the case for Doc Holliday.
Mary Doria Russell breathtaking prose, mired in adept research, provides us the alter on which we can judge John Henry Holliday, virtues and vices revealed. Off with his head, or my, God, but for the Grace go I, is the reader's decision. Truth is a great leveler on both sides of the scale; this brilliantly constructed fictional, yet factual, novel provides the room for human error; for lost chances; for roads wrongly taken and those completely forsaken.
One of the finest novels I have ever read, I applaud Russell wildly. I am a voracious reader and so few make it to my top lists; this book resides on that upper shelf.
Recommended seems trite, but I highly and profoundly advise reading this inspiring tale of the Wild West and one man, Doc Holliday, who stood before it, imperfect, battling the tornados winded his way with all his mind and might.