I think Steve Earle is the among the best music lyricist ever! He is right up there with Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. But does this mean that he will be a good novelists as well?
I have read his collection of short stories, Doghouse Roses many years ago. I enjoyed them well enough but certainly wasn’t blown away by the writing. Although, I did particularly enjoy the story Taneytown, as it expanded on the narrative of a song of the same name. That song is far richer for me know, as the characters and storyline are so much more fully developed in mind.
I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive, Earle’s first novel, was a much more satisfying reading experience. This fictional story revolves around the latter days of Doc Ebersole, the physician who accompanied Hank Williams during his final days. Doc is now a drug addict living on the skids in San Antonio, getting by by providing medical care to his fellow denizens of skid row. He is haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams and is spiraling downward fast until he meets Graciela, a young Mexican woman of very special talents.
The characters are particularly well developed, quite realistic and most are likeable, which is important to me as a reader. The ghetto setting and the descriptions of the lives of the junkies and prostitutes also seem to ring true to me. I guess having been a heroin addict himself was a benefit for Steve in this case.
The theme of the novel focuses on mortality and morality, but it is also about hope and personal metamorphosis. Similar to Steve himself, the story has a spirit of anti-establishment. The police are portrayed as corrupt and mean spirited. The Catholic Church and abortion play a central role in the novel, with the character of Father Killen portrayed as the story’s bad guy. It is the junkies, dealers and hookers who are the sympathetic characters in this story.
A winning combination of an unusual storyline, sympathetic characters and great description made this book a winner for me. Recommended.
“… a doctor, a Mexican girl, an Irish priest, the ghost of Hank Williams, and JFK the day before he dies. This subtle and dramatic book is the work of a brilliant songwriter who has moved from song to orchestral ballad with astonishing ease.” ~ Michael Ondaatje
“Steve Earle brings to his prose the same authenticity, poetic spirit, and cinematic energy he projects in his music. I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive is like a dream you can’t shake, offering beauty and remorse, redemption in spades” ~ Patti Smith