For a creative force that has made his mark on the country rock scene as both songwriter and performer and actor recently appearing on the cable series "Treme" playing a New Orleans street musician (which is different considering most of the other musicians in the series play themselves) who comes to an untimely death, Steve Earle can now put notable novelist on his resume. "I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive" is Earle’s first novel following a collection of short stories published in 2001.
Earle’s protagonist, simply referred to in the book as Doc (the character was a professional doctor before the book begins), lives in a downtrodden area south of San Antonio known as the South Presa strip. It’s a logical setting considering Earle has spent most of his life living in the Lone Star state. Doc has ended up in this part of town housing mainly the lost and lonely due to his morphine habit and alcohol abuse (stripping him of his professional license), demons that have followed him from the seamier sides of most of the Gulf state cities from Mobile to Baton Rouge finally ending up in Bossier City (referred to as Shreveport’s black-sheep sister across the river) where he hits rock bottom.
Following Doc in various manifestations is the ghost of Hank Williams Sr. popping up when Doc’s highs are at their utmost peak. Always acting against the right decisions Doc is encouraged on by the specter to certain defeat and what appears as eventual death if major life changes don’t happen.
Things look pretty grim until a Mexican beauty named Graciela enters Doc’s life because of an unfortunate pregnancy. Doc still practices some medical procedures including abortions which is highly illegal considering the book takes place in the early 60’s. Doc is able to heal Graciela back to health and in doing so allows her to develop healing powers beyond anyone’s imagination.
Word gets out about this young woman’s abilities bringing very interesting characters into the picture including the local priest (who would have done well to take anger management classes), a city drug enforcement officer with young woman problems of his own and one large Mexican drug dealer with a good heart and dreams of getting out of the ‘business’ and becoming a legit truck driver.
This novel captivates readers from the get-go, involving them in the characters’ lives giving you a reason, despite their shortcomings, to root them onto more successful times. You’ll have to read the book to see if they all “get out of this world alive.”
—Reviewed by Bruce Coen