cover image Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams

Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams

Mark Ribowsky. Norton/Liveright, $29.95 (496p) ISBN 978-1-63149-157-3

Country singer Hank Williams’s story is already so well known that Ribowsky’s (Dreams to Remember) entertaining, critical biography reveals no newly uncovered information about him. Nevertheless, Ribowsky is an engaging storyteller, and he tells Williams’ story with such verve and humor—albeit with some over-the-top phrasing (“he was a dysfunction junction”; “Hank seemed like an afterthought lying carefree in a casket”)—that Williams and his music come alive. He chronicles Williams’s childhood in Alabama; his marriage to Audrey Mae Sheppard Guy, and their miserable but symbiotic relationship; his slow but sure rise to country music stardom on the Grand Ole Opry and WSM radio; his marriage to Billie Jean Eshliman; and his death in the back of his Cadillac on January 1, 1953, at the age of 29. Ribowsky offers cunning readings of Williams’s songs: “Mansion on the Hill,” he says, reflects a familiar Williams template that is “part croon, part hoedown, and a metaphoric lament of loneliness and the promise of a reward too far.” Williams emerges from Ribowsky’s powerful biography not only as the author of many familiar country and pop favorites, such as “Hey, Good Lookin’ ” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” but also as a man whose back pain drove him to drink and pills and whose soul was filled more often with gloom than with light. (Nov.)