Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Reading: Steve Earle's I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive

I don't read a lot of books in my spare time.  Whereas my wife can devour a full length novel in a matter of hours, it generally takes something pretty compelling to draw me in and hold my interest (perhaps that's a refined way of saying I have a short attention span).

Either way, that wasn't an issue with I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, the first full-length novel by hardcore troubadour Steve Earle.  Clocking in at 256 pages, it's not an intimidating tome, but you'll find yourself wishing it was a lot longer as you delve into it.

It's a quirky story that takes place in 1963 on the seamy side of San Antonio.  The story's protagonist is Doc Ebersole, a morphine-addled doctor that supports his habit by performing flophouse abortions.  He's haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams, aided by a young illegal Mexican immigrant with strange powers, and pursued by a priest that may not always be doing the Lord's work.  Still with me?

It does require a certain suspension of disbelief by the reader, but it's pretty easy to get sucked in by Earle's writing and storytelling.  And it's almost physically painful to read his description of Doc's self-destructive addiction -- demons that Earle fought firsthand for a number of years.

The novel -- along with his new album of the same title -- mark a strong resurgence of this talented artist.  I had grown tired of his leftist screeds and these efforts are a welcome departure.  Both were composed during a time in which the 56-year-old Earle lost his father, and it shows.  Throughout the novel and the album, he thoughtfully grapples with death, yet both writing and recording are ultimately about redemption.

The book feels like it probably should have gone on a little longer -- the end seems a bit forced -- but it's a fun read nonetheless.  "Wrestling a novel to the ground was about 100 times harder than I expected," Earle told the L.A. Times. "In the middle of it, I swore I'd never do it again. But now that it's done, I've got another idea."

We're waiting, Mr. Earle.

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