Book Review: 'Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral' by Mary Doria Russell

It may be true that Mary Doria Russell's account of the O.K. Corral shootout and the history leading up to it in Epitaph is novelized, but as the author said, it is "fact"ion she writes, rather than fiction. One could even say that this is the most thoroughly researched account of the event, one that is the least tainted by legend of any the accounts ever written. This is not to say that readers will find themselves mired in dry facts, oh, no, not in the hands of Russell. The facts she presents are embodied in character, action and conversation are fascinating-and often surprising.

In her prologue, which connects her novel to the Homeric tragedy she uncovers in the story of the O.K. Corral, Russell tells us, "To understand the gunfight in Tombstone, stop-now-and watch a clock for thirty seconds. Listen to it tick while you try to imagine on half of a single minute so terrible it will pursue you all your life and far beyond the grave." In her next few paragraphs, she impresses upon her reader the historical import of this timeless thirty seconds and what it did to the lives of its participants, as well as what the legend has done to distort the truth of the incident.

Then the story begins, and a trail of facts leads to a powerful and dramatic tragedy that will rivet you until the last word, and even then stay around to resonate with meaning and raise questions. The trail does not end at what would seem to be the culmination at the O.K. Corral, but wends on afterward, taking strange turns as it is shaped, reshaped really, by the needs of the culture that fostered it and the romantic needs of the culture that follows that era.

But don't take my word for it, read the reviews, do your own research, maybe even pickup a signed copy of Russell's book at the Peregrine Book Company to get started.

Peregrine Book Company is located at 219 A N. Cortez St., in downtown Prescott.