I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is a wondrous book from the pen of singer/songwriter Steve Earle. Set in the early 1960s in San Antonio, Texas, it is populated with the seediest of characters: a drug addict doctor/abortionist, a giant hulk of a drug dealer, a barmaid, prostitutes, a crazed and brutal priest, the ghost of singer Hank Williams, and one beautiful young woman from Mexico. The tale Earle weaves is one of redemption. It is a simple parable full of mysticism. Earle proves himself to be quite an accomplished writer, which, I suppose is to be expected, although writing songs and poetry don’t necessarily translate into being adept at writing a novel. But this work is beautifully written prose, concise and poetic. From an almost underworld, Earle manages to paint a lovely picture. And we readers are enriched by it all.
I'm always leery of famous people who use their fame as a means to venturing into another art form although it seems musicians make the transition to novelist more often than, say, movie stars to recording artists. And this is a book about music, in a tangential way, as the ghost of Hank Williams is one of the main characters. And I admit I read this book because I'm a Steve Earle fan. I was happy Steve wrote such a good book but I'd have thoroughly enjoyed this book regardless of the author. I highly recommend it.
I wouldn't want to be any of the characters in this novel. This is a dark and disturbing story that is probably actually taking place in real life in many places at this time. It reveals parts of society that most of us don't see, but is very real. Steve Earle weaves a poignant tale around characters living in the dark-gray areas between right and wrong, more criminal than not and surviving on the edge of catastrophic failure. He expertly reveals their humanity and their roles in their community. It is written well enough to have kept my attention through to the end. However, I found the ending to be lacking in detail and depth. The story seemed to just fizzle out.
Steve Earle is able to carry his song-writing skills, emotions, and authenticity into the written word very well. "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" spins the death of Hank Williams into a tale of the doctor who "may" have given Hank the morphine shot that killed him. Haunted (and I mean literally) by that incident, Doc becomes a disbarred doctor in the slums of San Antonio, caring for the prostitutes, junkies, criminals, and more. Only Steve Earle writing this story would have led me to reading it. Listen to the CD too !
The strength of this book is in its character development. I grew to care about the people, even the damaged priest. The author weaves a fascinating tale that mostly takes place in a couple of buildings on one street. At first I was distracted by the internal dialogue with a dead man, but after a while I grew as oddly comfortable with him as Doc did. Without any preaching, the book deals with drug addiction, drug pushing, prostitution, law enforcement, mysticism, abortion and religion. The time period before abortion was legal is evoked without dwelling on the historic shifts in public opinion. Actually there is little context of the outside world. The stark reality of the lives of the people speaks for itself. There is no judgement. The reader is left to form our own opinions. These characters are simply living their reality and we are given a glimpse into their lives.
I could not put this book down. It is a quick read because it is so engaging.
This rather dark novel had just enough dark humor to keep me interested. A doctor who has had his license revoked and who is also a heroin addict performs illegal abortions in a skid row part of town. He is "haunted" by the ghost of Hank Williams. The characters are all very interesting and well developed. A transvestite, an innocent young Hispanic girl, a heroin dealer and the former doctor are all thrown together in a plot that held my interest well. I am a pretty conservative type, but even with all the uncomely characters and themes, I was enthralled.
Steve Earle is a pretty fantastic musician, and with his terrific debut novel, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, he's proven his talent as a writer as well. This is a tremendously well-written and creative book with characters that slowly reveal themselves to be more complex and sympathetic than you might think, and a plot that mixes despair and hope with a little bit of mysticism.
It's the fall of 1963 in a rundown neighborhood of San Antonio. Doc Ebersole is a disgraced former physician struggling with a severe morphine addiction--and he's being haunted by the ghost of his former patient and fishing buddy, Hank Williams. (The rumor is that Doc gave Williams the morphine shot that might have killed him.) Doc lives in a boarding house and, in an effort to support his habit, treats the local criminals, prostitutes and drug dealers for sexually transmitted diseases, gun and knife wounds, and other injuries and illnesses--and performs abortions for women who find themselves "in trouble." Into this mess comes Graciela, a young Mexican immigrant in need of Doc's services. She stays with Doc after she recovers, and after she sustains a wound that won't seem to heal, she discovers her ability to heal Doc's patients and send them on the road to a new life. But not everyone is happy about these supposed miracles--including the local clergy nor Hank Williams' ghost.
This book really took me by surprise. When I started reading it I thought it would be a harrowing story of a man near the end of his rope, struggling with a debilitating addiction yet trying to help others to feed his habit. But Doc was much more complex than I expected, and the people that surrounded him, including Graciela, were layered, fascinating people. I even found the mystical parts of the book enjoyable, although I felt the subplot with the local priest to be a bit unnecessary. Even as I had suspicions where the book would go, I savored every page. Earle is a talented writer, and he has created a fascinating little world that might not be pretty or happy, but it sure is interesting. Great book.