The circumstances surrounding the death of the country singer Hank Williams on 1 January 1953 are mysterious and disputed. All that is known for certain is that the 29-year-old singer died in the back of a Cadillac en route to a concert date in West Virginia, having apparently summoned a doctor to administer a shot of vitamins mixed with morphine to ease his chronic back pain.
‘I’ll never get out of this world alive’ is the name of the last single released during Hank Williams’s lifetime, and it’s an appropriate title for this novel. The ghost of Hank Williams is a character in this novel, which is set in Texas in 1963 a decade after Williams’s death. The novel follows Williams’ spirit as it haunts the fictional Doc Ebersole, a middle-aged drug addict who performs abortions in San Antonio’s seedy South Presa Strip. Doc Ebersole can only see and hear Williams’ ghost when he’s high, and their relationship is an uneasy one, riddles with guilt.
Doc thinks it is possible that the haunting is only in his head, but then Graciela sees him too. Graciela is a teenager from Mexico who has had an abortion and who stays in Doc’s boarding-house room after her boyfriend abandons her. Graciela is destined to become famous in her own right, working miracles in South Presa after cutting her arm while waving at Jacqueline Kennedy the day before President Kennedy’s assassination.
The best part of this novel is the characterisation of Doc Ebersole (who may or may not be based on the doctor who gave Hank Williams his fatal injection). While Graciela serves a purpose, it’s as a way of carrying the story forward rather than as a person. The story itself loses momentum about half way through and in what might be a near perfect metaphor for the dangers of drug addiction, crumbles and stumbles towards its conclusion.
I’ve long been a fan of Steve Earle’s music, and I really wanted to enjoy this novel as well. Parts of it are brilliant, but the ghosts weigh it down too much to soar. It’s okay, but not great.
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: VINTAGE ARROW - MASS MARKET; 1 edition (3 September 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 009955447X
- ISBN-13: 978-0099554479
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 181 g
- Customer Reviews: 2 customer reviews