After three straight days of trying to listen to local radio, I knew I needed a new audiobook. My favorite authors were already checked out, so I decided to try something new. That’s the wonderful thing about library books; you can try new authors for free. I took home a shiny new copy of Mary Doria Russell‘s Doc.
I fed the first CD into my car stereo. Ten minutes in, I was enchanted. By the time I moved on to disc two, I was in love. And now that I’ve finished the book, I can honestly say this is one the best books I’ve listened to this year.
In Doc, Mary Doria Russell sets out to tell the story of John Henry Holliday: a son, a cousin, a dentist, a friend, a sick man who found himself trying not to die in a tough post-Civil War Kansas town. Told with incredible compassion but never softening the realities of the day, Russell shows Holliday, the Earp brothers, and the rest of the Dodge City crew as real, three-dimensional people whose histories, motivations and personal demons are varied and complex.
In sumptuous prose, Russell also tells the story of a cow town in tremendous transition. Today, us Kansans tend to pride ourselves in our history as a free state. But Kansas, even in the 1870s and 1880s, was complicated. Less than a generation after the Civil War, boys who had fought for the south were driving cattle through Dodge to do business with northerners. Prostitutes, saloon keepers and gamblers earned their keep within blocks of families lured out to the plains with the promise of bountiful farmland. People living in Dodge City in those years were redefining their own personal moral compasses, adjusting to the reality of their surroundings, weighing Victorian standards against the need to survive.
Read Doc for the beautiful writing. Read it for the history. And read it because it’s full of moments that will touch your heart.