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Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive

I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive
Steve Earle
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

Just when every ray of hope was gone
I should have known that you would come along
I can't believe I ever doubted you
My old friend the blues

---from “My Old Friend the Blues” by Steve Earle

I love Steve Earle’s music. I love his bluegrass, his rock, his blues and even his country music.

I’m not too crazy about his fiction, however.

I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive is the title of a Hank Williams song, which is appropriate since his ghost is a major character in this odd little story of a down and out physician addicted to heroin. Doc is the one who gave Hank his final and lethal dose of morphine, which is why he is a guilt-ridden addict haunted by his own demons in addition to Hank, who only shows up to torment Doc when he’s high. Otherwise, Doc is busy taking care of his clientele, which consists of prostitutes, drug addicts and other derelicts in San Antonio. His practice is mostly back door abortions, gunshot wounds, and overdoses; his small fees help pay for the heroin. When he performs an abortion for a young illegal Mexican girl, Graciela, she ends up staying with him and helping him with his practice, but strange things begin to happen to her. Whenever she helps Doc heal a patient, her hands begin to bleed. And then---

And then I had to stop reading. Ghosts, heroin use, prostitutes, abortions, and now stigmata? It was all too much for me. I didn’t like any of the characters; I didn’t find the writing style to be exceptionally lyrical (I know! Shouldn’t it have been?!?) or compelling; I did not find any hope or redemption in sight (but to be fair, it was probably lurking right around the corner); and I just lost interest in the whole premise. Trust me – no one is more disappointed in my disappointment than I am.


This is the author’s first novel, but my favorite Steve Earle CD is Transcendental Blues.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Ghosts and Lightning by Trevor Byrne (2009)
After his mother dies suddenly, Denny Cullen returns home to Dublin for the funeral and to sort out his life. With no job, he spends his time hanging out with aimless friends who, in between stealing or doing drugs, seem to be searching for some meaning in life.

And the Word Was by Bruce Bauman (2005)
Taking the job of resident physician at the American Embassy in India after the tragic death of his son, Neil Downs seeks a philosophical refuge in the writings of Levi Fustenblum and forms a bond with Holika, the rebellious, activist niece of a prestigious family.

Wasted Beauty by Eric Bogosian (2005)
In a tale of contemporary urban desperation and desire, Reba Cook, an unusually beautiful woman, struggles with her drug addiction while enduring city life alongside an assortment of neighbors.

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