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I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive Hardcover – May 12, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011: Steve Earle's heartbreaking debut novel features a morphine addict who performs illegal abortions, a young Mexican girl with mysterious healing powers, the ghost of Hank Williams, and a host of other more or less charismatic misfits. Set in San Antonio around the time of JFK’s assassination, and told with an equal mix of sympathy and violent detail, the story maintains a delicate balance of many such would-be opposing forces: Catholicism and "hoodoo," addiction and redemption, brutal reality and magical realism. A first novel this compelling from any author would be cause for celebration, but Earle is also a musician (the GRAMMY®-winning albums Washington Square Serenade and Townes), actor (The Wire), and activist, and in this context the book is even more of a watershed accomplishment. I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is decidedly not for the faint of art, but adventuresome fiction readers will find much to love in its shocking, tender depths. --Jason Kirk


"Earle (a hell of a songwriter himself) has written a deft, big-spirited novel about sin, faith, redemption, and the family of man." --Entertainment Weekly

"Earle draws on the rough-and-tumble tenderness in his music to create a witty, heartfelt story of hope, forgiveness, and redemption."


"In this spruce debut novel...hard-core troubadour Earle ponders miracles, morphine and mortality in 1963 San Antonio... With its Charles Portis vibe and the author's immense cred as a musician and actor, this should have no problem finding the wide audience it deserves."

--Publishers Weekly

"A thematically ambitious debut novel that draws from the writer's experience, yet isn't simply a memoir in the guise of fiction...richly imagined..."

--Kirkus Reviews, starred

"Steve Earle brings to his prose the same authenticity, poetic spirit and cinematic energy he projects in his music. I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is like a dream you can't shake, offering beauty and remorse, redemption in spades." 

—Patti Smith

". . . a doctor, a Mexican girl, an Irish priest, the ghost of Hank Williams, and JFK the day before he dies. This subtle and dramatic book is the work of a brilliant songwriter who has moved from song to orchestral ballad with astonishing ease."

—Michael Ondaatje


"A rich, raw mix of American myth and hard social reality, of faith and doubt, always firmly rooted in a strong sense of character."

—Charles Frazier

"Steve Earle writes like a shimmering neon angel." —Kinky Friedman


"Earle has created a potent blend of realism and mysticism in this compelling, morally complex story of troubled souls striving for a last chance at redemption. Musician, actor, and now novelist—is there another artist in America with such wide-ranging talent?"

—Ron Rash

"The characters are unforgettable, and the plot moves like a fast train. A fantastic mixture of hard reality and dark imagination."

—Thomas Cobb


"Raw, honest and unafraid, this novel veers in and out of the lives of its many memorable characters with flawless pitch. Earle has given us dozens of remarkable songs, he has given us a dazzling collection of short stories, and now here's his first novel, a doozy from a great American storyteller."

—Tom Franklin

"A haunting and haunted bookend to Irving’s Cider House Rules. Gritty and transcendent, Earle has successfully created his own potion of Texas, twang, and dope-tinged magic-realism."
—Alice Randall

"If Jesus were to return tomorrow to twenty-first-century America, and do some street preaching on the gritty South Presa Strip of San Antonio, he’d love Earle’s magnificently human, big-hearted drifters."

—Howard Frank Mosher


"Colorful, cool, and downright gripping."

—Robert Earl Keen

"Reads like the best of Steve Earle’s story songs, which means real good. The tale of a more charmingly haunted, trying-to-do-the-right-thing dope fiend you won’t easily find."

—Mark Jacobson


"The best book I've read since The Road. As much or more than any other artist of his generation Steve Earle rises to the call, culturally and politically, traditionally in folk and country and rock music and what he’s added there, and with acting and writing for theater, and now with all the literary forms crescendoing in this beautiful novel. He just keeps stepping up."

—R. B. Morris

"Steve Earle astonishes us yet again. Country Rock's outlaw legend brings the ghost of Hank Williams to life in a gloriously gritty first novel that soars like a song. And echoes in the heart."

—Terry Bisson

"A mighty fine piece of storytelling."

—Madison Smartt Bell  

More to Explore
Download an exclusive excerpt from Steve Earle's I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (May 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618820965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618820962
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #881,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Steve Earle's first novel (his first book was the collection of short stories Doghouse Roses: Stories) is a well-written story that is unmistakably a Steve Earle product. Framed in the weeks before and the months after JFK's assassination (and in reality written in a time when Earle was struggling to come to terms with his father's death and needed an outlet, of which the album I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is also a product), "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" tells the fictional story of Doc Ebersole, a fallen-from-grace MD who now practices medicine (mostly abortions) out of a boarding house in the South Presa Strip of San Antonio and struggles with a twice-daily morphine habit. As Doc was allegedly the last to see Hank Williams alive ten years earlier, Hank's ghost has the curious and often unhealthy (for Doc) habit of haunting Doc, mainly when he's high but also just when Hank is lonely, continuously pushing Doc to keep pushing the drug into his veins. One day, however, a young Mexican girl named Graciela is brought to Doc in need of an abortion. The two grow fond of each other during and after her recovery and it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems with Graciela as strange miracles begin happening on the South Presa Strip, attracting the attention not only of the local lost souls, but also of the local priest Father Killen. The end result is an explosive climax befitting all the characters involved, from Father Killen to Doc's dealer and somewhat friend Manny to Doc himself and to Graciela. Even to Hank.

The novel itself is an easy read.
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44 of 52 people found the following review helpful By C. D. Cronenberg on April 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a long term fan of Steve Earle from the cheesy steinberger-esque riff of Guitar Town to the point after my military service that my politics and his aligned. I see him every time he goes on tour through Texas and digest everything he creates. That said, I was concerned that his attempt at a novel may been too far reaching. How wrong I was, this mournful tale of pain could only be written by him. Only someone with his history and past could convey this story. I can't wait for this to be made into a movie. I can see it straight, or as a Bubba HotepBubba Ho-Tep (Hail to the King Edition)style film. This is not a star attempting something different; this is a great book by a great author.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on May 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Progressive country singer Steve Earle's new novel I I'LL NEVER GET OUT OF THIS WORLD ALIVE is peopled with interesting characters. The plot revolves around Doc a morphine addict who has skidded from respectable Louisiana physician to illegal abortionist/emergency physician in a seedy section of 1960's San Antonio. In an original if risky move Doc is haunted by the ghost of tragic hillbilly singer Hank Williams. In Earle's telling Doc was the doctor who supplied "Ole Hank" with his morphine and gave him his last shot shortly before his controversial death in 1953 at the age of twenty-nine. The book's title is an ironic reference to one of Williams' last recorded hits. The third leading player is Graciela a young Mexican immigrant girl who is taken to Doc for an abortion and ends up staying with him as his companion and apprentice. Graciela has mysterious healing powers of both the body and mind that seem to be connected to a stigmata like wound on her wrist. An overweight drug dealer, a lesbian prostitute couple, a strong transvestite named Tiff and a deranged priest are among the most memorable of the well rendered supporting cast.

The book is set in the months surrounding JFK's assassination and Doc and company even visit the San Antonio airport to see the young president and his glamorous wife on the eve of his death. Author Earle is a good storyteller and his novel is a fast and easy read. He seems to have envisioned some larger themes that go unfulfilled and this failure keeps the book from being great rather than merely good.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Donald E. Gilliland on July 21, 2013
Format: Paperback
I'm a huge fan of Steve Earle's music. I have nearly every album that he's ever recorded and consider him one of the most vital, interesting and important musicians on the planet nowadays. So, I was very excited to see that he had written a novel also. But ... I was quite disappointed with this one. Frankly, I thought the main story was boring, and the dialogue just didn't have the same ring of authenticity that you get from his song lyrics.

No, this novel isn't entirely awful. There are passages in here that are both funny and wise, well-written and even poetic. And some of the themes in the novel are righteous ones. Obviously, Earle is a talented fellow, but this novel reads like a half-realized dream, one that wasn't fully fleshed out or honed to perfection. There are some interesting characters populating these pages, and yet I don't feel like we ever really get to know them as well as we should. The pacing of the story, the confusing time frame, the hackneyed dialogue, and other baffling bits drag down the story. Doc's "relationship" with the ghost of Hank Williams was perhaps the most annoying feature. I really wanted to love this book, or at least enjoy it, but I struggled to even finish it. Actually, the epilogue was very well done, but not good enough to save this book.
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