Wednesday, July 30, 2014

O.K. by Paul West

I just finished O.K. by Paul West, labelled an account of "the corral, the Earps, and Doc Holliday," and in truth it is all of those things, though the emphasis here clearly rests upon the latter.  This is Doc's story, told from Doc's point of view, and it centers on a complex and vastly misunderstood man's efforts to define himself.  Is he a dentist, a gentleman, a gambler, a gunslinger, or an agent of the law?  Is he all of the above?  In West's unique take on the man, no one knows, least of all Doc--at least the Doc whose mind West attempts to crawl inside.  Of course, whether or not his take on the notorious figure is accurate or not is debatable, but there is a sense that the author may have latched onto something authentic.  I found his efforts to flesh out this iconic gunmen to be both moving and inspiring, and I applaud his work here.

The prose is poetic and roams throughout the book, carrying us through the details of Doc's life, savoring some of his most memorable moments while treating others like minor details (or essentially ignoring them) in lieu of further detailing Doc's raging eternal debate.  It's rich stuff; Doc questions religion, loyalty, integrity, sex, and death, all in great detail, and West is happy to take us into the furthest reaches of a quizzical killer's mind as these themes are explored. 

West has done his homework, yet there are inaccuracies here, and honestly I don't think that a wholly accurate representation of the man was nearly as intriguing to the author as a chance to unravel the mysteries of Holliday's mind.  At best, this endeavor largely consists of guesswork, and as such, those looking for a scholarly take on the material will not be pleased.  Additionally, the very approach will put many off.  I must confess that I loathed West's work initially, though his writing soon wormed its way into my heart.  In the end, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those who can approach the tale with an open mind.  In the final two pages alone, I was inspired to laugh out loud before West nearly brought me to tears.

Bonus points: two of my favorite lines, both of which I decided to tweet, were contained within the same paragraph.

"I am climbing socially, I guess, downward.  From dentist to assassin.  Not bad."

"Ike Clanton was always looking for everybody until he found them, and then he lost interest."

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