While I’m not inherently interested in the subject matter (Doc Holliday), I thought very highly of Russell’s book The Sparrow. In fact, it is one of my writing inspirations. Many writers get into the business because they read a dreadful book, and think “I could do better than that.” So they sit down at the keyboard and give it a try.
Russell makes me think, “I can aspire to this.” I read The Sparrow and thought, This is what a great book can do. It can make you laugh and cry, stare in wonder, stay up late, and keep thinking about it months and years later. I can only dream of having the skill with character that Russell masters.
In that book, and in Doc, you already know how it ends. That’s not why you’ll read the book–which, in itself, is a pretty cool author trick. This author has the skill to make you *not care* that you know how it ends, but rather, make you care desparately how you’ll get there. (I think this may relate to the recent research suggesting that many readers actually enjoy a book more when they have spoilers)
In Doc, Russell not only creates an indelible image of the man, she builds the entire population and culture of Dodge City around him. She gets the reader involved with his life and those of his friends, not because of any great, earth-shaking events that will occur in the book (which ends before Doc and the Earps ever reach Tombstone), but because you want to know him, be with him, and follow him around for a while. This is not to say the book has no plot, it weaves together several subtle plots and subplots, but the tension is on a character level. Each section is delivered in a beautiful rendering of a character’s voice–each distinctive, educated or not, witty or spare, as befits the narrator. She moves deftly from scene to exposition, occasionally drifting ahead in time to tell where some information comes from, or the future implications of a moment.
And the climax is a stirring piano performance you can feel as much as hear. Bravo!