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The Navi-Gator: a Gator's Guide to Library Resources

Recommended Fiction: Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell

by Pamela Tarajcak on 2021-12-16T09:26:44-05:00 | Comments

"He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle.  The disease took fifteen years to hollow out his lungs so completely they could no longer keep him alive.  In that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness." (Doc, pg. 4)

Cover ArtDoc by Mary Doria Russell
Call Number: FIC RUS (COBAA Traveling Collection)
ISBN: 9780812980004
Publication Date: 2012-03-06
Pages: 389
John "Doc" Holiday, legendary participant of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, has much more to his personality and his life than that one incident in Tombstone, Arizona.  He was born a member of a wealthy Southern family.  His father dies in the War, and, on the night of a war benefit, his beloved mother gets drastically ill, later diagnosed with tuberculosis.  His mother passes and he moves in with a relation who inspires him to pursue a career in medicine, and whose daughter becomes John's One True Love.  Things seem to be going well until, only a few short years after his mother's passing, he too begins to exhibit symptoms of the same disease.  From then on, he knows he lives on borrowed time.  He can't become a physician, so he turns dentist.  He can't marry his sweetheart, not wanting to saddle her with playing nurse, so he moves away from his home to travel west.   It is Out West, where Doc becomes the legendary version of himself that history knows.  He becomes a violent man.  He takes up with Big Nose Kate Harony (a brothel madam), having a mutually abusive relationship. He becomes a card gambler with varied successes.  Using laudanum and booze to numb the pain of the tuberculosis, turns him into an addict.  He becomes a sharp shooter.  He gains a group of friends in the Earp Brothers.  This book profiles that time in his life.  The time in his life where Doc starts to turn into a legend.
"To understand the gunfight in Tombstone, stop--now--and watch a clock for thirty seconds. Listen to it tick while you try to imagine one half of a single minute so terrible it will pursue you all your life and far beyond the grave.
"Begin your half minute with righteous confidence though you stand six paces from armed and angry men. They have abused you.  They have threatened your life. Your rage and fear are justified.  They are in the wrong. You are within the law.  About all this, have no doubt....
"Imagine. Your name is Earp, or Holiday. Your name is Clanton or McLaury.  Your name is Behan. Your name is Marcus or Sullivan, Houston or Harony. You were in the middle of the gunfight.  You watched it, stunned. You heard the fusillade and thought, Dear God, not my man. Please, God. Not mine." (Epitaph, 1)
Cover ArtEpitaph by Mary Doria Russell
Call Number: FIC RUSS (COBAA Travelling Collection)
ISBN: 9780062198761
Publication Date: 2015-03-03
Pages: 577
While Doc mostly was written with Holiday's point of view. this book takes multiple points, from Wyatt Earp struggling against his hatred for political rival, Tombstone lawman Johnny Behan, to the woman they fought over, Josie Marcus, to Doc himself, to the patriarch of the Clanton family, continually being frustrated at government restrictions on his cattle farm. All of these frustrated individuals, some with egos bigger than the territory/state of Arizona, the politics of the time, and the tinderbox that is Tombstone itself, led to that thirty seconds of infamy for everyone.  After the gunfight, repercussions begin and at the very end, the legend only remains, a legend that Josie Marcus, last living person alive has to combat against.  
Both books are truly unique looks at these "tall tale" like figures in American Western History.  Most stories that involve the legend that is the American West venerate these figures, or look at their flaws as mere American Grit.  Russell, with her more pragmatic eye to "The Great Men who Made History," keeps these flaws as flaws but doesn't forget these men were human, above all.  Not villains (black hats) or heroes (white hats) but humans.  Humans like Kate who, though she can spout Latin with the best educated men in the world, runs a brothel for the lowest element of society.  Humans like Doc or the Earps whose egos frequently challenge their nobility.  Also equally solid is the way that Russell doesn't view these events as independent of the larger American political milieu.  These events were intimately involved and effected by the panics, assassinations, wars that occurred in America.  Not only that, but some of the dialog that occurs, largely between Doc and Kate are blisteringly sarcastic, that sometimes you can't believe you're laughing at how terrible these two are to each other. 
Note though, Russell writes these men as men of their time, so she does write their dialog with the racial slurs and stereotypes used at the time.  So be prepared for talk that would NOT be accepted in 21st century polite company.  Also there are mentions of spousal abuse, mental illness, and addiction.
In short, these books are wonderful historical fiction for those who may want to take a trip to the Un-Hollywood-ized Old West.  And boy, oh boy, will it be a rodeo ride for you.

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