I had never heard of Steve Earle before THE WIRE. He had a small role in the first season that was reprised in the fourth and fifth seasons as Walon, the guy who tries to help Bubbles get off dope (he also performs the theme song ‘Way Down In The Hole’ for Season 5). He also appears in TREME as a musician called Harley Watt. But he is better known by most people as a Grammy award-winning country/folk musician.
I’LL NEVER GET OUT OF THIS WORLD ALIVE is his first novel but he has previously published a collection of short stories DOGHOUSE ROSES. I ordered the book purely because I am an obsessive compulsive Wire fan, but I made a mistake. Instead of ordering the hardcover I incorrectly ordered the unabridged audio. Not a huge problem, actually an advantage, because I have a fair drive to and from the bookshop each day and being on audio meant I started listening to the book straight away instead of it languishing in my’ To Read Pile’. There is always something different when an author reads their own work on an audio book. There are some actors that do a fantastic job reading an audio but the author always nails it. Steve Earle takes this to a new level in reading his novel as not only does he add to the audio experience by being the author that fact that he is a musician and performer enhances the audio another degree. I do not regret by mistake at all.
The title of the novel comes from a Hank Williams’ song of the same name. Hank Williams was a country music artist in the 1940s who died in 1953. The story is set in San Antonio in 1963 and follows Doc Ebersole, who was Hank’s physician. Doc is no longer a legally practising doctor having lost his license due to his morphine addiction. He is also haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams who, inexplicably to both Doc and Hank, won’t leave him alone. He supports his habit by practising medicine off the books, treating the people who inhabit the red light district of San Antonio, where he lives.
Doc’s main clientele are prostitutes, junkies, drug dealers and Mexican immigrants which is how he meets Graciela, a young Mexican girl who has been kicked out of home by her family. Graciela begins helping Doc in his makeshift clinic but strange things start happening after she wounds her arm and it doesn’t seem to heal. She begins to heal others by touch alone including Doc’s addiction which upsets his ghost no end. When word spreads of the apparent miracles being performed a fanatical Catholic priest gets involved and tries to rescue Graciela, from the hands of the ‘evil abortionist’ and the other ‘sinful’ people that surround her, with tragic consequences.
I do not normally buy into the spiritual or magical. I like my fiction gritty and real. Steve Earle however manages to tread both paths with ease and brilliance. I can’t wait to hear his new album which shares its name with the novel.
Steve Earle talks about writing the novel and making his new album