Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

Epitaph

Mary Doria Russell, the bestselling, award-winning author of The Sparrow, makes her Ecco debut with Epitaph—an American Iliad, this richly detailed and meticulously researched historical novel continues the story she began in Doc, following Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday to Tombstone, Arizona, and to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral

A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A

A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A shamelessly partisan media. A president loathed by half the populace. Smuggling and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Armed citizens willing to stand their ground and take law into their own hands…

That was America in 1881.

All those forces came to bear on the afternoon of October 26th when Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers faced off against the Clantons and the McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona. It should have been a simple misdemeanor arrest. Thirty seconds and thirty bullets later, three officers were wounded and three citizens lay dead in the dirt.

Wyatt Earp was the last man standing, the only one unscathed. The lies began before the smoke cleared, but the gunfight at the O.K. Corral would soon become central to American beliefs about the Old West.

Epitaph tells Wyatt’s real story, unearthing the Homeric tragedy buried under 130 years of mythology, misrepresentation, and sheer indifference to fact. Epic and intimate, this novel gives voice to the real men and women whose lives were changed forever by those fatal 30 seconds in Tombstone. At its heart is the woman behind the myth: Josephine Sarah Marcus, who loved Wyatt Earp for forty-nine years and who carefully chipped away at the truth until she had crafted the heroic legend that would become the epitaph her husband deserved.
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    Michael

    My best read of the year, and one I can recommend to all. What, you don’t think a “Western” would appeal to you? Or you think you saw a movie about a shootout in Tombstone that conveys to you everything you didn’t really need to know? And are you about to tell me that any thrill from brave action and dastardly villainy is gone, and any joy of wisdom about courage and justice is as dead as old reruns of “Gunsmoke”?

    Well, never fear, just forget all that. Think character development sublime, prose

    Well, never fear, just forget all that. Think character development sublime, prose that sings, and fine pacing in a mythic tale that also represents a time machine to a critical point in history. The year is 1877, a time when the American dream was reaching a turning point with the ending of the frontier and the corralling of the last Indian tribes on reservations. It doesn’t matter much if you didn’t get to love John Henry Holliday and Wyatt Earp during their sojourn in Dodge City with Russell’s earlier book “Doc.” You get a fullsome picture here of their friendship being like two sides of a coin. Not too different from Gus and Call in “Lonesome Dove,” with one articulate, passionate, and ironic and the other a laconic righteous boy scout who can break bad when riled up enough.

    Wyatt has come west with his brothers Morgan, Virgil, and James and their fascinating and hardy women. He does deputy sheriff work alternating with security for stagecoaches, while Morgan is with the city police and Virgil serves as a federal marshal. Jurisdictions for their law enforcement work get blurred and they work together a lot. Against the background of drunks getting rowdy in the saloons, gambling emporiums, and brothels, there is an overlapping set of criminal elements who multitask in spheres like robbery and cattle rustling and align with various corrupt and greedy factions in power, such as politicians, ranchers, mining magnates, and newspaper publishers. A microcosm of civilization and its discontents.

    Doc, the Earp’s well-educated dentist friend from Georgia, comes for the dry weather to help his tuberculosis and comfortable income from gambling. He is alone, as his stormy relationship with the femme fatale Kate is in a breach phase. As an invalid, he has learned to be quick with a gun when faced with an impending assault and his charm and Latin aphorisms fail. His newspaper inspired reputation from violent events in Dodge City seems to draw out the bullies and wannabee bad boys, and the Earps always seem to get involved in defending him. It’s easy to see why local yahoos might take offense when he spouts things like this:

    “Laughter of children. Discretion of slaves. Austerity of virgins,” he canted softly. “It begins in loutishness and ends among angels of flame and ice.” …”I have despaired of many things”,.he told Wyatt. ”Health. Home. Honor. Myself. There remains one thing I rely on, one thing I can put my faith in. Human folly never disappoints.”

    Wyatt has a reputation as dangerous too, but his is inflated from a single killing of a drunk who was dangerously out of control. This is more his story this time around. Beyond family loyalty and his strange affinity for Doc, it’s hard to tell what drives him. His empathy for the downtrodden gets him trapped in a relationship with one Mattie Blylock, a shrewish ex-prostitute who gets viscously nutty without her regular doses of laudanum and flaky nutty when she does. But another woman has her eye on him, Josie Marcus, a Brooklyn-born Jew of Polish extraction who plays the piano at a saloon, ostensibly married to a corrupt entrepreneur with ambitions to become governor. Great chemistry, but it takes him forever to act on her interest in him. It bothers him how “all the women in Arizona were either somebody’s or anybody’s”. In the advice of one of the Morgan wives to Josie:
    “Honey, the Earp boys mean well, …but sometimes you have to hit them with a shovel to get their attention.”

    Russell excels in making most of the bad guys in this tale comprehensible and complex instead of just stock stereotypes. At their core is the Clanton clan, who run a prominent cattle ranching operation, which is well supplemented with cattle rustling and stagecoach robberies. The patriarch rules with an iron fist, and his son Ike thrives in his outfit by his childhood skill of reading him like the weather:

    The old man was just part of a world that included rattlers, scorpions, and a hundred kinds of cactus. …Ike had made a particular study of the old man and knew when bad spells were coming on. “It’s like thunderstorms,” he told them. … The old man’s mood would get darker and darker, like clouds piling up, and he’d get angrier like wind rising. Then he’d explode. Lightening could strike the nearest target. “Give! Me! My! Due!” The old man would yell over and over, a blow landing with each word, until he’d spent his fury on that week’s unlikely child.

    One of Clanton’s “Cow Boys” is a young tough named Johnny Ringo, who was also abused by his father as a child (do you see a theme here?). In his case, the story is how the sins of the child shall be revisited upon the father, and the best defense is a good offense (a permanent one). That makes hims especially dangerous (“Old man Clanton might take a horsewhip to you, but Ringo would kill you”). But like Doc, he is a reader and a thinker. He makes a canny summary of the Tombstone community, which Russell elsewhere fleshes out in elaborate detail:

    “The old man’s like everybody else out here. Nobody goes west except failures, misfits, and deluded lungers” [i.e. the tubercular].

    Step by step, with one sleight or infraction escalating into progressively larger ones, the Clanton gang becomes enemy number one for the Earps. After the mythic shootout at the “O.K. Corral”, which resulted in both Virgil and Morgan getting serious bullet wounds, Wyatt has an epiphany about how was able to get into the “zone” as an efficient killing machine. It had to do with yet another case of a child adapting to the dangers of a brutal father. He had learned to submerge his rage and just concentrate on the hands of his adversary to predict and counter his actions. As the aftermath of the showdown escalates further by the Clanton gang’s revenge and counter moves by the lawmen, losses mount on both sides, and Wyatt takes a turn toward an all-out vendetta.

    This transformation represents the core tragedy in the book, the movement of Wyatt to the dark side. But he doesn’t see the change in terms of good turning to evil:

    “When a man beats his boy, he wants a son who won’t buck him.” That’s what Wyatt told Doc Holliday once back in Dodge. “He’s trying to make a coward. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it works.” “And the hundredth boy?,” Doc asked. “We can go either way. Kill the old man, or try to become a better one.”
    He didn’t tell Doc how hard it was trying to be a better man. He didn’t say what it was like pouring your soul into just …not being murderous. He never told anyone what it felt like when his grip on anger loosened. It felt like honesty.
    The shame came later.

    As the body count continues to rise, there is no righteousness along the lines of John McClane in the “Die Hard” films:
    A lifetime denying his own nature, Wyatt had been born, and born again, and not there would be a third life, for the iron fist that has seized his soul in childhood had lost its grip at last. The long struggle for control is over. … He was bred to this anger. It had been in him since the cradle. He’d never bullied or beaten a horse. He’d never punched the front teeth out of a six-year old’s mouth or hit a woman until she begged. But he was no better than his father, and never had been. He was far, far worse.

    Wyatt’s personal loss of innocence over what looks like family defense stands in for me as a metaphor for the whole American enterprise behind the Manifest Destiny mania for subjugating the continent. As we follow his life with Josie in the decades after these events, we witness an aimlessness and lingering guilt. Like the conquering of the West in general, his story is subsumed in books and movies as a triumph of civilization over savagery. He and Josie engage a sympathetic young man as a ghostwriter to render the “truth”, but Josie can’t help sanitizing all the seedy aspects in the lives of the players. This just helps convince me how the crafting of a fictional version of history, at least in the hands of a master like Russell, can have more truth than what serious historians are able to render.



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    Marita

    Jan 13, 2018

    rated it
    really liked it

    4.5 stars

    It all started with a bad tooth. And a piano… There was Doc Holliday, one-time dentist now turned professional gambler, living comfortably in Tucson, Arizona when he got the call. Friend Wyatt Earp in Tombstone had a severe toothache, and would the Doc come to Tombstone? By the way, there was also an excellent piano at the local hotel. Doc might say no to the tooth, but the piano? – not on your life. He was determined to play a good piano before his tuberculosis (or a stray bullet) ki

    It all started with a bad tooth. And a piano… There was Doc Holliday, one-time dentist now turned professional gambler, living comfortably in Tucson, Arizona when he got the call. Friend Wyatt Earp in Tombstone had a severe toothache, and would the Doc come to Tombstone? By the way, there was also an excellent piano at the local hotel. Doc might say no to the tooth, but the piano? – not on your life. He was determined to play a good piano before his tuberculosis (or a stray bullet) killed him. Doc Holliday is the perfect gentleman, but wherever the good Doc goes trouble is sure to follow. Just when he finds a piano, a library and his good friends the Earps… well, that is for you to read.

    This historical novel is the sequel to Doc* which, as you can guess from the title, is about the charming Doc Holliday (1851-1887). It is also about his Hungarian lover Kate Horony (1850-1940) and his friends the Earp brothers. Author Mary Doria Russell once again provides wonderful characterization, and introduces some additional characters such as the delightful Sadie (Josephine Sarah Marcus – 1860-1944). However, not all the characters are delightful. This is after all the Wild West, and Tombstone perhaps the wildest town of all. A town with sleazy, corrupt politicians where Cow Boys (this is how Ms Russell writes it) spend their days rustling cattle (locally and in Mexico). If you don’t like somebody, well, BANG! He’s dead. No wonder then that events lead to the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (October 26, 1881), and Ms Russell provides a perfectly plausible explanation of why it happened. The gunfight and its aftermath gained legendary status, and there were several movies and TV series about the individual characters (Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday) as well as of the notorious gunfight itself.

    What makes this novel even more interesting is that whilst the focus is on the gunfight and events leading up to it, the author sketches a background of other major events and people. For example, President James Garfield was shot in July, 1881 and he passed away in September of that year as a result of infection. There are also references to theatrical events. Sadie loves Sarah Bernhard and strives to emulate her. One of Gilbert and Sullivan’s musicals is performed, and the crowds love it. As always, Ms Russell’s research is impeccable.

    There is plenty of humour amongst the mayhem, and there is an hilarious scene where the Doc dines with some ladies at a restaurant. But of course, where Doc goes…

    In addition I enjoyed the wordplay of ‘Tombstone’ and ‘Epitaph’ which appears from time to time.

    The novel does not end with the infamous gunfight, but continues with its aftermath and traces the lives of the main protagonists to the end.

    Doc:
    “”I have despaired of many things,” he told Wyatt. “Health. Home. Honor. Myself. There remains just one thing I rely on, one thing I can put my faith in. Human folly never disappoints.” (P387)

    An apt epitaph methinks.

    ROGUE ‘S GALLERY

    Doc Holliday

    Kate Honory

    Wyatt Earp

    Sadie Marcus

    (Photo believed to be of Sadie – Wikipedia)

    ##########
    *https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…
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    Kemper

    Apr 10, 2016

    rated it
    really liked it

    ”To understand the gunfight in Tombstone, stop — now — and watch a clock for thirty seconds. Listen to it tick while you try to imagine one half of a single minute so terrible it will pursue you all your life and far beyond the grave.”

    One of the things I find fascinating about the ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’* is how the same set of facts can be presented to show one side or the other as the ‘good guys’ or the ‘bad guys’. Were the Earps and Doc Holliday heroes who fearlessly faced down some das

    One of the things I find fascinating about the ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’* is how the same set of facts can be presented to show one side or the other as the ‘good guys’ or the ‘bad guys’. Were the Earps and Doc Holliday heroes who fearlessly faced down some dastardly cattle rustlers and thieves, or were they corrupt opportunists who essentially murdered some innocent ranchers as part of their efforts to take over the town of Tombstone?

    As with most things the reality probably lies somewhere in the middle, and what Mary Doria Russell has done so brilliantly with this historical fiction is to show us a version that feels a lot more true than many of the non-fiction accounts that ascribe some kind of agenda to the actions of those involved. Her depiction here shows all the participants not as mythical incorruptible Western lawmen nor mustache twirling villains. Instead, she tells a story in which they are just flawed people who found themselves at a nasty intersection of local politics, business, and crime that led to series of events that eventually found a group of men trading bullets in a vacant lot that was unfortunately just the beginning of even more violence that would cost them dearly.

    The previous Russell book Doc focused on John Henry Holliday and his friendship with the Earps through their days in Dodge City. This one puts Wyatt in the forefront, but like Doc we get the viewpoints of many characters. For example, a lot of the story comes to us via Josie Marcus, the woman who left Sheriff John Behan for his political rival Wyatt which was another key factor in escalating the tensions in Tombstone.

    The first part of the book that details the events leading up to the infamous gunfight is a stew of conflicting agendas enhanced by post-Civil War grudges and shady political moves that combine until even the most frantic stirring couldn’t keep that particular pot from boiling over. A lot of this reminded me of HBO’s Deadwood in the way that various schemes play out. There’s also distinct parallels to American society today like the town’s two competing newspapers choosing sides and trying to spin events like a cable news network.

    Another interesting aspect is how much time is spent on what happened after the gunfight, and unlike some versions such as the film Tombstone which glamorized the ‘vendetta ride of Wyatt Earp’ this story dwells instead on the immense price that everyone involved paid in one way or another. The book pretty much destroys the romanticized myth of the Old West in which disputes can be permanently settled by showdowns at high noon, and instead presents the much messier reality in which violence kicks off revenge cycles when there’s no strong authority around to put a stop to the whole mess.

    Although the Earps and Doc Holliday are definitely the heroes of this story Russell deglamorizes them as legends. Instead she skillfully and compassionately shows how their complicated lives and a variety of good and bad decisions led them to that pivotal thirty seconds, and how those moments haunted and defined their reputations forever afterwards.

    * – It’s common knowledge that the shooting didn’t actually happen at the OK Corral, but as Russell writes, “…..it took too long to set the type for ‘Gunfight in the Vacant Lot Behind Camillus Fly’s Photography Studio Near Fremont Street.’”
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