Monday, January 16, 2017

Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell

Last year Jeff VanderMeer, in his Souther Reach trilogy books, introduced me to the word terroir. It's a great word with broader applications that means "the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate".

Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell is a terroir novel about the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The premise is simple, that the actions at the OK Corral did not happen in a vacuum, they didn't just occur one day. The actions that day were the result of a lot of little things, that built over time, through a the actions of a number of people, all of whom weren't even direct participants in the actual gunfight. Epitaph takes a look at this culmination of events, as they unfold over about a year or so prior and does so with masterful precision. And it is fascinating. You become involved the slow moving collision course with history as each little piece slides into place.

 The book does not end with the actual event of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The gunfight did not end the Earp-Clanton war (which is what it really was) and the war continued after. There were other events, less memorialized, like The Earp Vendetta Ride, the nearly month long campaign where Wyatt Earp left the law behind, took matters into his own hands, and went after The Cowboys. All of it is covered in detail and/or speculation, which ever is appropriate.

Epitaph goes further still and maps out the course of Wyatt Earp's life as it transitioned from fact to myth to fiction.

Highly recommended

Here is a trailer for Hour of the Gun, a  under-remembered 1967 movie starring James Garner about the Earp Vengeance Ride

Here is the Gunfight at the OK Corral as depicted in the movie Wyatt Earp

And again in the movie Tombstone

To the extent that people know about the Earp Vendetta Ride it is likely because of this scene from Tombstone