From the book
Playing for Time
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 all that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness.
When he arrived in Dodge City in 1878, Dr. John Henry Holliday was a frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who wanted nothing grander than to practice his profession in a prosperous Kansas cow town. Hope—?cruelest of the evils that escaped Pandora’s box—smiled on him gently all that summer. While he lived in Dodge, the quiet life he yearned for seemed to lie within his grasp.
At thirty, he would be famous for his part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. A year later, he would become infamous when he rode at Wyatt Earp’s side to avenge the murder of Wyatt’s younger brother Morgan. To sell newspapers, the journalists of his day embellished thin fact with fat rumor and rank fiction; it was they who invented the iconic frontier gambler and gunman Doc Holliday. (Thin. Mustachioed. A cold and casual killer. Doomed, and always dressed in black, as though for his own funeral.) That unwanted notoriety added misery to John Henry Holliday’s final year, when illness and exile had made of him a lonely and destitute alcoholic, dying by awful inches and living off charity in a Colorado hotel.
The wonder is how long and how well he fought his destiny. He was meant to die at birth. The Fates pursued him from the day he first drew breath, howling for his delayed demise.
His mother’s name was Alice Jane.
She was one of the South Carolina McKeys, the third of eleven children. Fair-haired, gray-eyed, with a gentle manner, she came late to marriage, almost twenty at her wedding. Alice was pretty enough and played piano well, but she was educated in excess of a lady’s requirements. She was also possessed of a quiet, stubborn strength of character that had discouraged beaux less determined than Henry Holliday, a Georgia planter ten years her senior.
Alice and Henry buried their firstborn: a sweet little girl who lived just long enough to gaze and smile and laugh, and break her parents’ hearts. Still in mourning for her daughter, Alice took no chances when she was brought to bed with her second child. This time, she insisted, she would be attended by Henry’s brother, a respected physician with modern ideas, who rode to Griffin from nearby Fayetteville as soon as he received her summons.
Labor in Georgia’s wet mid-August heat was grueling. When at last Alice was delivered of a son, the entire household fell quiet with relief. Just moments later, a dreadful cry went up once more, for cleft palates and cleft lips are shocking malformations. The newborn’s parents were in despair: another small grave in the red north Georgia clay. But Dr. John Stiles Holliday was strangely calm.
“This need not be fatal,” the physician mused aloud, examining his tiny nephew. “If you can keep him alive for a month or two, Alice, I believe the defects can be repaired.”
Later that day, he taught his sister-in-law how to feed her son: with an eyedropper and with great care, so that the baby would not aspirate the milk or choke. It was a slow process, exhausting for the mother and the son. John Henry would fall asleep before Alice could feed him so much as a shot glass of milk; soon hunger would reawaken him, and since his mother trusted no one else with her fragile child’s life, neither slept more than an hour or two between feedings, for...
- Focusing on the man he was and not on the legend he became, Russell's novel masterfully imagines John Henry "Doc" Holliday's everyday life. With a growly Southern drawl straight out of central casting, narrator Mark Bramhall saunters through the narration as confidently as Doc once strolled the dusty streets of nineteenth-century Kansas. Utilizing diverse drawls to differentiate infamous gunslingers--including Doc, Bat Masterson, and the Earp brothers--Bramhall also fluently transitions into international accents that reflect the ever-expanding influx of immigrants at the time from China and Europe. Bramhall's soulful performance will resonate with listeners, who will hear John Henry's passion for dentistry and love for his common-law wife, a prostitute, as well as his acceptance of his own fate in the face of death. A.R.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
- -Kirkus "Fact and mythmaking converge as Russell creates a Dodge City filled with nuggets of surprising history, a city so alive readers can smell the sawdust and hear the tinkling of saloon pianos...Filled with action and humor yet philosophically rich and deeply moving--a magnificent read."
The Bookwatch, on The Sparrow
Praise for Mary Doria Russell
"In clean, effortless prose and with captivating flashes of wit, Mary Doria Russell creates memorable characters who navigate the world of exciting ideas and disturbing moral issues without ever losing their humanity or humor."
Publishers Weekly, on A Thread of Grace
"The action moves swiftly, with impressive authority, jostling dialogue, vibrant personalities and meticulous, unexpected historical detail. The intensity and intimacy of Russell's storytelling, her sharp character writing and fierce sense of humor bring fresh immediacy to this riveting . . . saga."
San Francisco Chronicle, on Children of God
"Brilliant . . . powerful . . . Russell is an outstanding natural storyteller whose remarkable wit, erudition, and dramatic skills keep us turning the pages in excitement and anticipation."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, on Dreamers of the Day
"Rapturous and relevant . . . a wonderful story that brings to life a period of history that has remarkable parallels to our own."
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