Two Westerns in a week? First it was The Sisters Brothers and now it's Doc. Does this qualify as the start of a trend? I hope so. I don't want this to be just a happy coincidence.
So...I am delighted to have a new Western, Doc, to read but I am super sized delighted that it was written by Mary Doria Russell one of my pet authors. The Sparrow? Fantastic. Children of God ? Excellent. A Thread of Grace? Heartbreaking, one of my favorite novels. Dreamers of the Day? Lyrical.
Now if you have already guessed that Doc is about Doc Holliday you can pat yourself on the back but don't expect anyone to be impressed. Doc is also about Wyatt and Morgan Earp, Holliday's sometime companion Mária Katarina Harmony a Hungarian prostitute, the American west of 1878, fate, violence and friendship.
Doc arrives in Dodge City, Kansas with Kate by way of Texas and his hometown of Atlanta. He left Atlanta a cultured and tubercular young dental surgeon still grieving for a beloved Mother. The West was going to be his cure, his new start. Unfortunately for Doc his skills and a dentally challenged population did not add up to enough income for his support so Doc moonlights as a gambler. Kate thought the pots would be richer in Dodge City and off they went.
Once in Dodge, Holliday is soon working his tooth magic by day and gambling his nights away. Through his eyes Russell paints a portrait of the varied citizenry and local customs that fascinates. She reinvigorates the myths of Doc, the Earps, the prostitute with the heart of gold and even Bat Masterson by focusing on the beginnings of their careers and in Doc's case that career is dentistry. These aren't road hardened people yet. These characters all still bare the fresh scars of their youth. They are all immigrants in a new promised land learning the language and looking for those golden streets.
There is research galore on display in Doc but it's never in the way. It's in the atmosphere in Dodge, in every whiskey, in every fallen woman, the characterizations, but it is the story that is paramount. Russell has done what only good writers can do. She has taken people we think we know, a place we think we know, a situation we think we know and has somehow crafted a novel that feels new and original. Discoveries on every page. How? Writer voodoo magic.
Happy. Happy. Happy.