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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (May 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547754434
  • ASIN: B009D76K00
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #661,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A deft, big-spirited novel about sin, faith, redemption, and the family of man ... You keep reading and you keep believing."
Entertainment Weekly

“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

“Shot through with humor and insight and ... enough action and intriguing characters in it to keep readers turning pages.”
Boston Globe

“Earle’s writing never lacks heart.”
New York Times Book Review

“As he does in his songs, Earle finds the tenuous points of emotional connection between characters who are living not only on the edges of their own ability to cope, but often on the very margins of society itself.”
Rolling Stone

"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

"Earle has delivered plenty of potent messages during his turbulent career, but he has never pricked the public’s conscience in as many different ways ... The renegade troubadour-turned-renaissance man ... challenge[s] audiences to think about mortality, redemption, addiction, artistic commitment and other soul-searing questions."
USA Today

"Raw, honest and unafraid, this novel veers in and out of the lives of its many memorable characters with flawless pitch. Steve 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

"Earle is pointing out that in fiction reality can merge with myth in the service of a larger truth . . . [I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive] aspires to a certain gritty transcendence . . . [and] comes with a mythic underpinning, a touch of the mysteries."
Los Angeles Times

"Iconic country-rocker Earle’s imaginative first novel follows the troubled life of Doc Ebersole, who may have supplied the shot of morphine that killed country legend Hank Williams . . . Earle draws on the rough-and-tumble tenderness in his music to create a witty, heartfelt story of hope, forgiveness, and redemption."

"This is an impressive debut novel. The characters are unforgettable, and the plot moves like a fast train. A fantastic mixture of hard reality and dark imagination."
—Thomas Cobb

"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

"In this spruce debut novel . . . hard-core troubadour Earle ponders miracles, morphine, and mortality . . .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

"This richly imagined novel not only takes its title from a Hank Williams classic, it audaciously employs Hank’s ghost as a combination of morphine demon and guardian angel . . . Already well-respected for both his music and his acting, Earle can now add novelist to an impressive résumé."
Kirkus, starred review

"What a delight to read this novel and find so many elements I’ve admired in Steve Earle’s songwriting for nearly twenty-five years. It is 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’s first novel provides a haunting and haunted bookend to Irving’s Cider House Rules. The ghost of Hank Williams walks through this abortionist’s tale that has much to do with grace and aging and death—and the power of the feminine. Gritty and transcendent, Earle has successfully created his own potion of Texas, twang, and dope-tinged magic-realism."
—Alice Randall

"Everyone knows that Steve Earle ranks among the very best, and most authentic, songwriters in the history of America. With his first novel, Earle has established himself as one of our most knowledgeable and sympathetic writers period. He is a natural-born storyteller. If Jesus were to return tomorrow to 21st-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. Only the man who wrote "Copperhead Road" could have authored I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive."
—Howard Frank Mosher

"A poignant story of madness and redemption woven into a tapestry of real world desperation and old world magic. It’s colorful, cool, and downright gripping."
—Robert Earl Keen

"The best book I’ve read since The Road. With the lure of Hank Williams’ ghost, a touch of the Kennedy assassination, a little Castaneda and a few miracles, he takes on the underworld and organized religion, and reality as it’s generally supposed, with great certainty and research and style."
—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

"I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive 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

"Outsider artists like Steve Earle bring a breath of fresh air to the literary world. I just wish they’d come around more often. Richly imagined and handily crafted—a mighty fine piece of storytelling."
—Madison Smartt Bell

"Perhaps only another great country singer would have the courage to cast [country singer Hank] Williams in the guise of a malignant hillbilly harpy, whose presence inevitably heralds imminent doom . . . And though the novel comes no closer to establishing the facts of Hank Williams’s death, it certainly reveals a good deal of the truth behind it."
Guardian (UK)

Customer Reviews

The story moves along, is an easy read, and the characters are well drawn.
Kevin Fontenot
And this is a book about music, in a tangential way, as the ghost of Hank Williams is one of the main characters.
This book is one of the best I've read in a long time and one I won't ever forget.
Pamela A. Poddany

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 Pasiphae on August 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a great fan of Mr. Earle's music, I opened this book primed to like it. And he has a storyteller's skill that propels along the story of a washed-up doctor junkie, his supplier, a young girl, a bad priest and the ghost of Hank Williams. It is a tall tale, a fafetched yarn set in a slum of addiction that winds along to an inevitable and predictable end. But it has some problems.

One problem is the simplicity of the characters. These are shorthand people, the skimpy details of their lives hastily offered. More time is spent describing their domino games than their histories. The Southern white doctor is named "Doc," and only the history of his addiction is really offered to the reader. Manny is the Mexican dealer, who is (surprise!) a devoted son and Catholic, even though he sells heroin. Of course the priest is Irish, and a boxer. Of course the Mexican girl is magical and beautiful and small, a little Virgin of Guadalupe come to life. Some goodhearted lesbians and a tranny hooker (strangely reminiscent of Lafayette on "True Blood") don't keep the cast from being entirely composed of stock characters.

The magical realism aspects of the story are another problem. The ghost of Hank Williams is whip-thin and mean-mouthed, and he yammers on at great length to little point. Doc's visits with him don't enlarge the reader's understanding of Doc, Hank, addiction or whatever magical realism rules are at play in this story. And, instead of a Magical Black Person who only exists to help white people, we have a Magical Mexican Person who does that in this novel. Graciela apparently only exists to help and heal hurting people, having no life or dreams or needs of her own.
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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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