OK by Paul West


The Corral, The Earps, and Doc Holliday
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The mythology of the American West has once again begun to take hold of some of our best writers' imaginations—notably

so in this sharply imagined 18th novel by the versatile stylist whose widely ranging fiction includes, most recently, Life With

Swan (1999).

West retells a number of familiar tales, climaxing with the infamous “Gunfight at the OK Corral” in Tombstone, Arizona,

survived by such hardy antiheroes as lawman (and murderer) Wyatt Earp, his cold-blooded brother Morgan, and the story’s focal

character: John “Doc” Holliday, the consumptive southern-born medical man and cardsharp whose restless adventuring and

mastery of gunplay seem ironical accommodations to the inescapable probability of his imminent early death. The book begins

awkwardly, with too many explanatory constructions (like “torn as he was between the dandyism of the Southern dentist and

the clinking leathers of theWestern shootist”). But the rhetorical ante is quickly upped, as West's exquisitely energized (if

occasionally baroque) prose displays Doc Holliday's bemused fatalism, and deftly portrays the two women who impinge on his

morose solipsism: “Big Nose Kate,” the hard-bitten whore who satisfies and loves him, but cannot persuade him to try to save

his own life; and Sister Melanie Mary (formerly Doc's “childhood sweetheart”), the poetry-writing nun with whom he

inexplicably conducts a longtime long-distance correspondence. The novel's language is admirably evocative and challenging,

remarkable for both its clarity (not always heretofore West's strong point) and vivid detail (e.g., in the desert “men had cut the

ears off their mules and sucked the blood from them, because there was no water”). The many lucid analyses of Doc Holliday's

rotting lungs and soul achieve a masterly intensity, even when the book's meditative intensity make it an otherwise intermittently

arduous read.

West's enduring curiosity, energy, and “chutzpah” make him one of the most consistently interesting novelists at work

today—and OK is one of his most interesting books.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-84865-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2000


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