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Hayes Carll

Joe Ely
The Crazy Lemon Rolls Again
by Richard Skanse


Joe Ely


Steve Earle




Terri Hendrix

I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
By Steve Earle

By Holly Gleason

With his strong lyrical bent towards story-telling having already spilled onto the page in his previously published short story collection Doghouse Roses, it was only a matter of time before singer-songwriter Steve Earle was going to go long form. Whether a novel or non-fiction, the teller of tales was uniquely pointed towards expanding his horizon. But the idea that when he did, it would be the tale of a fallen doctor turned backroom abortionist, a Mexican girl with miraculous powers, an old-school, small-time drug dealer, a lesbian rooming house owner and the ghost of Hank Williams, seems beyond the realm.

Beyond the realm is just about right for I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, the demi-mystical, hard-scrabble tale of Doc Ebersole, the last man to see Hank Williams alive and a failing morphine addict who’s lost his license and is reduced to terminations and fixing gunshot and knife wounds in the worst part of San Antonio. It is 1963, Hank’s been gone 10 years and Kennedy’s still alive … And then a Mexican boy arrives with a pretty girl in trouble, pays for Ebersole’s services and disappears. The girl bleeds profusely. Doc saves Graciela, the fierce-willed beauty, and in her old-world Catholicism, miracles and healings begin to occur.

Equal parts John Irving’s Cider House Rules, the works of Carlos Casteneda and Larry McMurtry’s Last Picture Show, this is a tale that stretches the possibilities, but never completely divorces the realm of reason. Characters abound. Lives shift. Truths emerge. But always the people struggle with what they know and where they’re going. With plenty of border lore and enough detail to set the reader in a world worlds away, Earle conjures places he knows by heart — and offers the inhabitants of those places the dignity of real, all-too-rare humanity. “Those people” become working folks, trying to make sense of turning tricks and staying well, no-good boyfriends who hurt or abandon them, drug problems to dull the nagging memories or boredom and the desire to find some joy along the way.

Throughout, Earle’s language is lean but musical, his prose infected by his inherent sense of rhythm. Equally powerful is his willingness to let the ghost of Hank Williams goad and tug at Doc for juxtaposition; the character is literally haunted by a legend who knows his doubts and soft spots. Infused with a strong sense of charismatic Catholicism, Earle captures disparate cultures and creates a community of ragtag survivors at the bottom of a barrel — bound together by unlikely love, miracles they can recognize, hope they didn’t know they could find and a reason to believe emerging from the left-behind sense of mattering. With a sense of the real and a willingness to follow story points to places that let almost whimsy romp in the harshness, Earle has crafted a debut novel as good as his best songs. That’s saying something, but it’s not overselling what’s here.