So much of what we think we know about history has been learned from television and movies that it can be quite a revelation to read thoughtful, well-researched historical fiction. This is particularly true when it comes to the mythology of our own Wild West. Regarding the reality of her novel, Russell states “... not all of it (is real) but a lot more than you might think.”
John Henry Holliday was born in Georgia in 1851. “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 15 years a legend was born that survives to this day in all its exaggerated and misunderstood glory.
At age 22, Holliday was a classically educated southern gentleman, a doctor of dentistry, intelligent, clever, well-bred, and intended for a life of refinement. Already aware of his disease and its inevitable ravages, Holliday makes the difficult decision to leave Atlanta for the drier climate of the West. Russell’s story focuses primarily on the time he spent in Dodge City, Kansas, before the events of the OK Corral in Arizona. It is in this raucous and ribald town at the end of the cattle trail that Holliday meets the brothers Wyatt, James and Morgan Earp, as well as Bat Masterson. Wyatt and Morgan are lawmen in Dodge. James, along with his wife Bessie, run a brothel. Bat is the county sheriff as well as a saloon owner. Doc has come to Dodge with Maria Katarina (“Big Nose Kate”) Harony, a prostitute who speaks multiple languages, including Latin.
Russell gives human dimension and depth to characters rendered one-dimensional by legend. Her attention to detail gives us a fascinating portrait of life in Dodge City during 1878 and her beautiful writing gives great pleasure in its reading.
Other Book Train Staff Picks
“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
“Crash Dive: True Stories of Submarine Combat” Ed. by Larry Bond
“Bar Mitzvah and the Beast: One Family’s Cross Country Ride of Passage by Bike” by Matt Biers-Ariel
“River House: A Memoir” by Sarah Lee Lawrence