Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
The strength of this story is the sparse, unsentimental narrative, unadorned by adjectives, contrived dialogue, or flowery prose. It moves at a slow deliberate pace, not always in a linear direction, sometimes repeating scenes from different characters' points of view. In this way we come to understand the inner thoughts of each and see how they can be fully committed to each other without fully understanding each other. The first half of the book covers many years, switching back and forth between characters and locations, reviewed with little detail, almost as though someone was going through a box of old photographs and explaining what was happening when each was taken, patching together a lifetime of memories without really explaining the life. Remarkably, it is effective in developing the characters and getting to the second half of the book in which the normal routines of life in the orchard are disrupted when history rears its head and must be dealt with.
Mark Bramhall's reading makes this story remarkable. Because there is little dialogue, he does not have to create vastly different voices. But through subtle changes in tone, pacing and inflection each character does have individual voice. Talmadge in particular becomes palpably real through Bramhall's slow rough voice. This is an Audible book that is truly best listened to.
Western lore has made Doc Holliday an important but secondary figure to Wyatt Earp in the narrow context of a single 30-second gun battle. Readers looking for a shoot-‘em-up retelling of the OK Corral need to look elsewhere. The action takes place almost exclusively in Dodge City before any of the principles ever move to Tombstone for that nearly mythological encounter.
In the hands of author Russell, Doc is a tragic but dashing hero of his own story - generous, humorous, ironic and proud. This wonderful character study explores the substance behind the dime store novel legends, fleshing out the cardboard heroes into wonderfully flawed human beings of depth and dimension. By taking the time to explain the back stories of all the major players, historical and psychological context make sense of the complicated personalities of Doc, Kate and the Earps, clarifying their interconnected relationships. This is historic fiction at its best – atmospherically descriptive, transporting the reader into time and place with her characters.
Mark Bramhall is one of my favorite readers, which is how I came upon this book. In the most ambitious project I have heard from him, he successfully tackles multiple accents, (Southern, Texan, Gypsy, German, Irish) and languages (French, German and Latin) with astonishing ease. Most eloquently, he gives Doc his beautifully melodic Georgia drawl, punctuated by spasms of consumptive coughing and weary breathlessness, conveying both the burden of his disease and the bravery of the fight against it. This is a performance that any author would wish for to bring life to a well written story.
For the greater part of this story I was sure I knew where it was going, and felt a bit disappointed that it was going to be another “feisty woman paired with truculent man on a difficult trek across country” kind of western. We all know how it turns out before the credits start rolling. The back stories of the four women whose minds and spirits broke in the face of unbearable hardships and in some cases sorrows, were touching and heartbreaking. But on the journey itself, through the silence of their brokenness (none of them can talk), they have little impact on the narrative, making them nearly invisible. That leaves Mary Bee and Briggs to carry the drama, and for 3/4 of the story, it was pretty standard western movie stuff.
Then with two hours left to read, a wrecking ball hits and all bets are off. Suddenly we are forced to reevaluate our perceptions of both Mary Bee and Briggs, and realize that the clues were there all along. Mary Bee was the more fully created of the two characters – Briggs remains somewhat of an enigma through to the end. But I expect that was the point - perhaps even he didn’t fully understand himself. The twist, as shocking as it is, fits. In my opinion, that’s where this story finally rises above the “off into the sunset” westerns.
The writing throughout is descriptive and visual. The wagon they travel in almost becomes one of the characters. But the dialogue is less effective, feeling stiff and forced. In fairness, that may be more of a factor of the narrator. There was always that hearty frontierswoman sound that failed to capture the more subtle, complex moods and emotions of the characters. I was always aware of being read to. Dropped a point off the overall enjoyment.