Bonus Reading: I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle
List Progress: 33/30
Country singer Steven Earle clearly poured a lot of himself into his debut novel, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. Titled after a Hank Williams song, the story follows a handful of people on the underbelly of society in 1963 San Antonio, most of whom are tied up in the heroin trade. Doc Ebersole is an addict, a former doctor whose life went to pieces when he sold the famous Hank Williams the shot of morphine that killed him. Haunted by Williams’ ghost, he keeps his own addiction fed by performing back-alley abortions for prostitutes, as well as patching up the aftermath of bar fights and robberies. His life is pulled out of its slow downward spiral, however, when he crosses paths with Graciela, a young Mexican woman with a strong will and an aspect of the mystical about her.
Earle crafts characters who are incredibly relatable and human, even as they are doing illegal and sometimes immoral things. Doc’s dear friend, and one of the most caring, empathetic characters, is his drug dealer Manny, who supplies him the poison that he pumps into his veins several times a day. The world they live in is very matter of fact, from the bribes they pay to the local police to the deals they make with the boarding house/bordello that Doc lives in. Even with the character’s desperate circumstances, there is a lot of heart and warmth to their lives.
The plotting isn’t perfect; a figure who is crucial to the finale should have been established and integrated into the story much earlier than he was, and the conclusion suffers some from it. And while the book is generally good at separating racist characters from the narrative condoning racism, the same can not be said for the transphobia leveled towards the character Big Tiffany, who is treated vilely by the text. But by the time I got to the end of this relatively short book, I wanted to spend more time with these characters and this world, which is a high recommendation in my eyes.
For a reader with a different view towards drug use or abortion, this might be a more difficult book to stomach. Steven Earle is vocally pro-choice and while Doc has made a lot of poor choices in his life, he never sees helping out “girls in trouble” as one of them. I doubt I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive would change the mind of anyone stridently opposed, but maybe the southern setting, country musician author, and strong story with a lot of heart could suck a reader in and shift their attitudes just a bit. But even when the novel is preaching to the choir, it’s a good sermon.
Would I Recommend It: Very much so.