Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Nothing came easy to John Henry “Doc” Holliday, not even his birth. Born with a cleft lip and palate, his odds for survival in 1851 were slim, and would have been slimmer still without the intervention of his amazing mother, Alice Holliday. Alice devoted herself to John Henry's care around the clock, feeding him with an eyedropper for eight weeks. His uncle, a noted surgeon, then repaired the cleft palate in an astounding surgery that the family kept secret to protect “family honor.” John Henry overcame his speech impediments with this mother’s therapy techniques and became proficient in the piano and several classical languages.
Tragically, Alice died a slow, agonizing death from tuberculosis when John Henry was 15 years old. John Henry also contracted tuberculosis as a young man and therefore knew exactly what kind of death was eventually promised him. Newly graduated as a Doctor of Dental Surgery, John Henry left Georgia and headed west in search of a dry climate where he could more successfully battle the disease slowly eating away at his lungs. He ended up in Dodge City, Kansas, a wild frontier town, teetering eternally between chaos and burgeoning civility, and the main setting for Mary Doria Russell's new novel, Doc.
Liquor, gambling, and prostitution all became part of John Henry's – now known as Doc’s – life, as they did for everyone in Dodge City in the late 1870s. He started an on-again, off-again passionate relationship with a transplanted aristocrat-turned-prostitute, Kate Harony, with whom he traded Latin quips. He also formed several key friendships with men in town, such as the Wyatt brothers. By day John tried to get his budding dentistry practice off of the ground, and by night he dealt faro (a card game) and tried not to get killed in barfights. There are a few plots that Russell deftly weaves through the novel that bring these amazing characters to life and will have you reading, entranced, until the very end.
In the past 14 years, Mary Doria Russell’s books have transported me to the planet Rakhat in 2019 (The Sparrow and The Children of God), to the Cairo Peace Conference in 1919 (Dreamers of the Day), and to Italy in World War II (A Thread of Grace). Russell is such a masterful storyteller that she can draw you into any subject matter, no matter how unfamiliar or unappealing to you at first. She works her magic again in this new novel, weaving a deeply sympathetic portrait of a difficult subject.