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Thursday, February 7, 2013

"I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive", dirty surrealism

I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive- Steve Earle

I know nothing about Steve Earle and his music, but the comments/reviews on his first novel (seems it has a collection of short stories out there too) made me very curious about it. This time opinions were mostly right. It's quite a special book. There's isolation, desperate medicine, drugs, miracles and ghosts. Well, not any ghost. The ghost of country legend Hank Williams.

This book is about haunting and being haunted. Earle has a remarkable ability combining a more traditional narrative with the "ghost" passages, making his work a fascinating piece of "dirty surrealism". If you think about it, there are so many different narrative elements that the mixture could have resulted very indigestible. We have a crude depiction of South Presa, a black hole in San Antonio, where Doc Ebersole, our protagonist, practises medicine illegally in order to finance his drug addiction. We have Graciela, an abandoned girl who does miracles and changes people's life. We have demented priests. We have John F. Kennedy and his wife. And his assassination. And of course, the ghost of Hank Williams pursuing Doc...

But somehow Earle is capable of assembling all the pieces and creating a unique tale of redemption, violence, miracles and... ghosts. I have read reviews that mention the obvious connections with Williams mysterious death and his drug addiction, plus the mere fact the book title is borrowed from the country singer posthumous release. Others go even further, defining "I'll Never Get..." as an explanation for the appeal of country music, where lyrics are "capable of absorbing any amount of misery before pouring it all back". But whether Ebersole is a fictionalised character based on the real doctor who gave the musician his fatal dose in 1952 would make this read even more absorbing for the fan of this music genre. But (luckily) you don't need that knowledge/appreciation to enjoy the book.

Like a Gothic tale, obscure and hallucinatory, the balance between grotesque, metaphysical, sardonic and realism has to be praised. And despite I would have loved the book to really explode when it has the chance, becoming cathartic or really ground-shaking, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" is a peculiar, and highly recommendable work. Like a ballad, not a bland and annoying one, but a powerful, oblique and darkly suggestive tune on regret and redemption.

SCORE: 6,75/10

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