It’s quite easy to say that I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle is one of my favourite books this year. It’s a novel that grabs you from an almost ludicrous blurb and entertains with a story that borders on modern day fairy tale with a hint the fables our society is built on.
Doc, our central character, is haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams (Yes, that Hank Williams). He was the last man to see him alive and was in fact the doctor who gave him the fatal dose of morphine. An addict himself, Doc is tucked away in San Antonio. He lives his life and feeds his heroin addiction by performing illegal abortions.
However, on one fateful day Doc is forced to treat a young Mexican woman, Graciela. Upon her recovery, they become friends and Doc looks after this seemingly fragile woman. Where the novel takes a spell into the strange is when Graciela cuts her wrist in an accident and it never heals, in fact it bleeds whenever she is near a tragic life. Graciela soon becomes a walking miracle in a world of sordid misery and a light in Docs life.
Earle is a songwriter, as well as an author and it shows from his ability to weave the written word so lyrically through his prose. It’s not as if his writing is overly flowery, it’s his ability to choose the right words at each moment and never waste a fraction of a sentence. Thus it leaves us with a rather short book that packs a punch and leaves you feeling for weeks after.
It’s been weeks since I finished the novel and yet several times a week my thoughts meander over to the world that Earle created. It’s the light at the end of a tunnel. Earles San Antonio is full of seedy characters that fuel their lives with drugs, prostitution and violence, but deep down each of the cast members is just a broken soul looking for the correct fix.
This can be seen in Manny, Docs drug dealing “friend”. a man who spends his life dealing in death, but hates himself for it. Knowing that he could be the man that gives someone their lifetaking dose of heroin, he often talks about how he doesn’t want to live the life he leads, but must do so in order to live. It’s all he knows. This use of characterisation paves the way for Graciela to enter their lives and bring the touch of folklore that the book does so well.
Much of the book revolves around drug taking and the life that accompanies it; therefore it can be a little heavy going. Thankfully Earle creates an uplifting feeling to balance it. By the end of the novel you feel as if you’ve lived these lives and that’s really a testament to Earle and his skill with a pen. Ultimately, this is one of my favourite books of the year because it holds that wonder of modern day miracles and hope in life.