Friday, 3 April 2015

"Doc" by Mary Doria Russell

Dodge City, 1800's
   In 1996, the year of my retirement, we explored the Santa Fe Trail, where 20 million cattle were moved from Franklin, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1800's.  The need for periodic rest stations, led to the establishment of "cow towns" such as Dodge City.  We found Dodge City quite fascinating as we wandered around imagining it as a 'wild frontier town'. It was quiet when we were there, because the tourist attractions take place during the summer only- rowdy dance halls, shoot outs, and wagon rides.
Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp

  Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp are characters who are well- remembered from those days, because Hollywood found a market for movies based on "the wild west"- drinking, gambling, shoots-outs, dance hall girls.
  I have not read books from this era, so I was interested in reading "Doc" by Mary Doria Russell.
  The book really puts you into the town as you get to know many characters.  The title refers to Doc Holliday, who was the focus of the book.

  John Henry Holliday was really a fascinating man.  He was born in 1851 with a cleft palate.  Interestingly, anesthesia had just been discovered 3 months previously and a doctor was able to repair the palate.
But he suffered from T.B. all his adult life .
  He was born in Georgia and received a classical education from his mother who died when he was 15.  He had learned to play the piano, and knew all the great composers and musical compositions.  He also had read the classics and knew Greek and Latin.
  At 22, he moved to Dodge City for his health.
His training was in dentistry and he set up a practice, but few local citizens could afford his skills.  And he was extremely skilled!  But he also had an edge at cards and was able to supplement his income.

The author:
Mary Russell is also fascinating!  Her father was a sheriff and she grew up with cops and guns but she also has a doctorate in biological anthropology.  She taught 'gross anatomy' at a school of dentistry.  I can't fathom the 'biological anthropology', but I know that in 'gross anatomy', they dissect bodies.
Does this sweet lady on the left look like she could handle a shoot-out AND a dissection?
Perhaps she understood the complexity of Doc Holiday because she is also very complex.  Her descriptions of Doc's practice are very technical- mandibular arch, interproximal surfaces.
  For sure, she is a very intelligent lady and Doc also had great intelligence.  Mary and Doc both appreciated other languages.

There are many characters in this book and they are described in detail. The book has a complex plot, looking at many issues from the 'wild west'.  It certainly transports you 150 years in the past to Dodge City.
Although the book is called "Doc', it does not cover the 'gunfight at the O.K. Corral" for which he was most remembered.  But there is a follow- up book called "Epitaph: a novel of the O.K. Corral".
I was tempted to read it until I held the book in my hands and browsed through the 577 pages of fine print.  Perhaps I know enough of this topic.

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