Bruce Olds has talent coming out his pores, and we see it on glorious display here in his intense imagery, poetic prose, and earnest attempt to recreate the psychology of Doc Holliday, who knew for fifteen years that he would die of tuberculosis. Unfortunately, all this talent does not add up to a great novel, or even a good one. With a main character about whom little primary information is available, the author resorts to mountains of repetition of the small details that are known in order to flesh out a novel-length story.
Over fifty pages, for example, iterate and then reiterate, in only slightly different words, Holliday's realization that he will die from the tuberculosis which killed his mother, along with the symptoms of the disease, various names for it, and other famous people who died from it. None of these advance Holliday's biography, nor do similarly long sections which list, among other things, various names for whiskey, alternative words for prostitutes, types of gambling games, and ways to cheat. Newspaper excerpts describing Holliday, and quotations from people who knew Wyatt Earp, his friend, while interesting in an academic sense, are more like research than story, and they are merely presented, not integrated into a whole. The inclusion of pages of Olds's poetry, along with his e. e. cummings-like manipulation of typefaces and spacing, feels artificial, more an attempt to elevate a flat story than part of a sensitive and carefully thought out novel.
While some readers praise the author's attempt to bring Doc Holliday to life through the presentation of this collage, a technique which Michael Ondaatje does brilliantly and successfully in his The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, this reader found it an attempt to wrap a hollow box in a pretty package. Mary Whipple