I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Steve Earle, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011 (book)
I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Steve Earle, New West Records, 2011 (audio CD)
No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive.
- Hank Williams, Jr.
Doc Ebersole is a discredited, down and out physician and heroin addict who earns his habit money providing unlicensed and illegal medical care to criminals, prostitutes and undocumented immigrants on San Antonio's South Presa Street. He is also haunted by the ghost of the legendary musician Hank Williams, Jr., a former patient. When Graciela, a beautiful young Mexican woman with magical healing powers, is abandoned in Doc's care, she stays on and becomes a changing force in his life and all of South Presa.
I'm a big fan of songwriter/musician Steve Earle, and this is the first book of his I've read. The best qualities of I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive are some of the same qualities I love in Earle's songs - the way he captures a setting, a slice of life, or a poignant truth about our human struggle. The story opens in 1963 just around the time of President John F. Kennedy's ill-fated trip to Texas. All the state was abuzz, especially the women, and most of all the Mexican women who claimed the Kennedys, in their Catholicism, as one of their own. I loved Earle's desciption of the adoration the women felt for Jackie. When Graciela's eyes meet Jackie's as the Kennedys disembark their plane at the airport:
All of the other women in the crowd witnessed it and each and every one believed that it was intended for her, and all their hearts melted into one.Between Hank William's ghost and Graciela's powers, faith, spirituality, and the supernatural play a big role in the story. Graciela's miraculous powers help Doc and many other residents not only heal from physical wounds, but also quit addictions and criminal ways. Soon she attracts the attention of the local priest, Doc comes under investigation by the law, and it all comes to a showdown.
The quality of the narrative and dialogue varies, with a tendency toward over-explanation, a few too many ideas crammed in, and the haunting a little awkward, but overall it was an interesting story with a good conclusion. As I read the final chapter, I could picture it as though it were a movie. If you are a Steve Earle fan, or you enjoy good-hearted but gritty characters, and/or you are in it mostly for the story, you will more likely enjoy the book. If you prefer impeccably crafted literary fiction, or if moral objections to the characters' occupations will prevent you from appreciating them, you more likely will not.
Earle's new CD (also titled I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive ) is produced by T Bone Burnett, and is classic Earle in his all his typical musical excellence. My favorite tracks include Molly-O, God is God, Every Part of Me, and This City (which was featured on the acclaimed TV show Treme). Even if you never pick up the book, go ahead and give Steve Earle a listen. He is an amazing musician, songwriter and storyteller who will not fail to rouse your spirit and touch your heart.
Happy reading - & listening!