three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
By: 
Steve Earle
user_rating: 
0

A-IllNeverGetOutSteve Earle is an actor and a Grammy-winning country singer. He published his first book, a short story collection titled Doghouse Roses, in 2001.

The Story: Doc Ebersole is a disgraced ex-physician living in a seedy area of San Antonio. Ten years ago, in 1953, Doc gave country singer Hank Williams a fatal dose of morphine. Hank won't let him forget it. His ghosts visits often, sometimes just to chat, sometimes to mock Doc's own drug addiction. To make ends meet, Doc treats STD cases and performs illegal abortions. Through this under-the-table practice, he meets Graciela, a young, pretty, and pregnant Mexican who has demons of her own.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780618820962

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]n allegorical tale of sin, grace, and redemption. ... The allegorical aspects never overwhelm Earle's novel, which is shot through with humor and insight, and has enough action and intriguing characters in it to keep readers turning pages." Bill Beuttler

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]n imaginative, insightful author with an innate gift for storytelling. ... Rather than force the action through breakneck plot devices, Earle has the maturity often lacking in first novelists to let his tale unfold at its own pace." Jeff Johnson

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]mid this sludge and wonder, Earle's bighearted desperadoes are also undeniably funny. ... And his arguments with Hank are hysterical." Don Waters

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"[T]ells the story of Doc Ebersole with all the kitsch and color of a Loteria card placed before an Our Lady of Guadalupe votive candle. ... Irish priests box, barmaids watch soap operas, ex-doctors slam heroin, and the pregnant, Catholic, Mexican girl Graciela might be a saint in disguise." Samantha Hunt

Onion AV Club 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[A]fter an absorbing buildup full of eye-gouging imagery and lyrically bleak insights into junkie logic, the story comes off the rails and rambles toward a ramshackle conclusion. And while Earle ultimately fails to make his mash-up of myth-spinning and magic realism cohere into anything more solid than Williams' ghost, the attempt is shot through with bursts of dirty brilliance." Jason Heller

Critical Summary

Most critics enjoyed Earle's debut novel, named after Williams's last big hit before his death at age 29. Doc Ebersole comes across as a flawed, authentic character--which is not surprising, given the author's own battles with drug addiction. There were a few quibbles, but while some reviewers found the characters over-the-top, most enjoyed reading about San Antonio's zany South Presa Strip. Overall, this is a fine first novel, an "extended character study etched in grit, mysticism, and a few of America's most potent mythos" (Onion AV Club).