Title: I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive
Author: Steve Earle
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
Genre: Literary Fiction
PP: 256 pages
Doc Ebersole is a disgraced physician, who lost his license and is rumored to have given Hank Williams his fatal does of morphine. He spends his days performing abortions, patching up knife and gunshot wounds while trying to earn enough to keep his own heroin habit afloat during the early 1960’s in a down and out area of racist San Antonio. He takes care of a young Mexican girl, Graciela, who almost dies from blood loss and she stays with him long after her recovery. Doc is haunted by the ghost of Hank, who goads him into his continuing drug use, but now finds that Graciela can see him and helps cure Doc from his addiction. There are more miracles at the hand of Graciela where people are uplifted and their maladies cured quickly. The local priest gets wind of the miracles and begins to investigate which leads to the an interesting conclusion.
I am just amazed that this first novel from Steve Earle is so tightly paced and cleverly written. It reminded me a great deal of the wackiness that appears in Christopher Moore’s books through the ghostly voice of Hank Williams. There are also the magical properties like in Sarah Addison Allen’s stories where under-the-radar miracles occur quietly in the form of Graciela. The story mixes Catholicism with Mexican folklore during the early Sixties where social change is so prevalent and ties it all to the shooting of JFK. This work helps you understand why Steve Earle is such a successful songwriter since this book is so lyrically alive and paints a wonderful picture with an economy of words. This is the perfect book for any one looking to expand their paranormal horizons with a bit of magic and ghosts.
Earle has written a masterful reflection on loneliness, addiction, despair and redemption. With the hand of a seasoned writer he weaves in abortion, liberation theology, Mexican theological mysticism and an indictment on the moral bankruptcies of the priesthood.
This is not an easy tale. It is grit and dirt and despair. But oh, is it beautifully written and chock full of characters worth remembering. Read it.