And it’s grand, but first let me tell you about my initial encounter with Kirkus Reviews. In the spring of 1996, when The Sparrow was getting close to publication, I got an email from Brian McLendon, who was the publicist for the book. “Mary,” it read, “The Sparrow just got a star from Kirkus Reviews.” And the next day, I received a bouquet of roses from my editors, David Rosenthal and Leona Nevler (of blessed memory).
Now, I am an anthropologist. The Sparrow was not just my first novel, it was my first fiction — unless you count grant proposals. What I still don’t know about the publishing industry is always a surprise to people in New York, but in 1996, I’d never heard of Kirkus Reviews. And the only star system I was aware of was the American Automobile Association Guide to Hotels and Motels, in which one star means, “Indoor plumbing; not very many rats.”
So I figured one star from Kirkus must have meant, “Uses punctuation; verbs in most sentences.” And the bouquet was probably supposed to make me feel better, like: “Don’t take that star thing too hard, we still like you.”
But then in the mail, a few days later, I got the text of the review and it was very nice. And Brian sent me more and more reviews, and they were all very nice. Finally I got up my nerve and phoned him to ask, “Brian, how many stars can you get from Kirkus? Because if you can get five, then one really sucks, but if you can only get three, tops, then one isn’t that bad.”
On the other end of the line, Brian quietly pushed his eyeballs back into his skull and said very patiently, “One, Mary. You can only get one.”
So, that in mind, I am thrilled to tell you that DOC just got a starred review in Kirkus, which is the definitive pre-publication review source within the literary, library and film industries.
“Doc Holliday is the tragic hero in this terrific bio-epic set in a revisionist version of the Old West—more realistic yet more riveting than any movie or TV western.
Born with a cleft palate in 1851, John Henry Holliday grows up in Georgia devoted to his tubercular mother who fosters his love of literature and music before her early death. A promising dental career in Atlanta ends when he is diagnosed with tuberculosis at age 22, and he heads west for his health. By 1878, when Doc turns up in Dodge City with his mistress Kate, professional gambling has eclipsed his dental career. He has also been accused and acquitted of murder, but according to Russell (Dreamers of the Day, 2008, etc.), he is neither a hardened gunfighter nor a pathetic dipsomaniac. Soon he sets up a dental practice and befriends Morgan Earp, the most intellectual Earp brother. Fact and myth-making 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. Losing their mythic, heroic sheen, figures like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson become more captivating for their complexity. Doc’s new friends are in their 20s (years before the O.K. Corral brings Doc and the Earps fame), still defining themselves and their ambitions, while their girlfriends are prostitutes without hearts of gold, only depressing pasts and often-hopeless futures. Doc observes the feuds and changing Dodge City politics from his vantage point, treating teeth and dealing Faro. Meanwhile, he drinks to medicate against his physical pain and gambles because the dentistry he loves won’t pay his bills. He and Kate, his intellectual equal, whose life began as the highly educated daughter of a Hungarian doctor before her family’s ruin, share an increasingly tumultuous relationship, torn apart by her neediness and the inevitability of his deteriorating health. Their creed, heartbreaking and brave, becomes “Without hope, without fear.”
Filled with action and humor yet philosophically rich and deeply moving—a magnificent read.”
— Kirkus Reviews