Steve Earle`s debut novel is disappointing

New York: "I`ll Never Get Out of This World Alive" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Steve Earle: Brilliant songwriting doesn`t necessarily translate to successful fiction writing. That`s the case with country troubadour Steve Earle`s debut novel, "I`ll Never Get Out of This World Alive."

The novel takes place in 1963, 10 years after country singer Hank Williams was discovered dead in the back seat of his car during a stop in Oak Hill, W.Va., while he was being driven to a concert date in Canton, Ohio. He was 29. Earle spins a tale of a junkie doctor who lives with Williams` ghost.

"Doc," who had treated Williams, now lives in San Antonio`s red-light district with drug dealers, prostitutes and illegal immigrants — a colorful, but flatly drawn group of hardscrabble characters.

"Doc" supports his morphine habit by providing medical services to those too afraid or too poor to seek help elsewhere.
With more than a dozen albums to his name, there`s no question Earle can tell a great story. But he cannot seem to sustain it throughout this short volume of fiction.

Addiction, crime, poverty, abortion and the ghost of a country music legend all contribute to the melodrama.

All good teachers advise their students to write about what they know — and Earle has taken this lesson to heart. His descriptions of addiction and withdrawal feel both haunting and heartbreaking. Neither has Earle strayed from his country music roots, writing a novel inspired by the lyrics of a song by Williams and the alleged doctor who "treated" the singer for alcoholism.

Unfortunately, by the time the wayward Irish priest and the stigmata appear, the book has become downright silly.

Earle`s fans are likely to be more impressed by his new album of the same name. Last month`s release is Earle`s first collection of original music since 2007`s "Washington Square Serenade," his Grammy-winning love letter to New York City.



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