On January 1st, 1953, after years of alcohol and drug abuse, county singer Hank Williams died in the backseat of a Cadillac heading to a gig in West Virginia. Earlier that day, a doctor had given him two shots of vitamin B12 laced with morphine.
Steve Earle’s novel, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, picks up the story ten years later with Doc Ebersole, a fictional composite of the doctors and hangers-on who encouraged Williams’ destructive drug habit. Doc has settled into the worst part of San Antonio, supporting his heroin habit by doctoring gun shot wounds and performing abortions for the prostitutes of the South Presa Strip, all the while being haunted by the ghost of his old friend, Hank Williams. He’s in a downward spiral and isn’t too worried about what will happen when he hits the bottom.
But when Graciela, an innocent young Mexican immigrant obsessed with Jackie Kennedy and the part-Catholic-part-pre-Columbian religion of her grandfather, appears in search of Doc’s services, miraculous things begin to happen. South Presa starts to change and Doc’s chances of redemption seem better than ever.
A county singer and one-time addict himself, Steve Earle is ideally suited to tell this difficult story. His depictions of heroin withdrawal symptoms and the things an addict will do to avoid them are harrowing and disturbing. But despite its focus on darkness and mortality, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is ultimately a story of atonement, absolution, and self-forgiveness.