South of Hannah
A Book Review
By Ernie Altgelt
or those of us with a passion for the pulsing Texas jazz scene that snaps and crackles up and down I-35 between Austin and San Antonio, the new novel, “South of Hannah,” should be considered a must read. Exquisitely researched and written by an accomplished area musician, the book offers intimate glimpses into the lifestyles of various (fictional) devotees of this truly American genre while focusing primarily on one practitioner’s personal struggles, on and off stage. Readers will find the entire composition compelling. “South of Hannah” is the creation of Boerne resident David Norman, a teacher, author and jazz pianist. A native of San Antonio, David attended Texas State University in San Marcos where he received an MFA in Creative Writing and has taught college-level courses in writing for the past 10 years while still finding the time (and energy) to pen a number of lauded short stories that have appeared in numerous literary publications. And of course, there are his regular gigs as a semi-professional jazz keyboardist. “South of Hannah,” his most recent and perhaps, most individualistic, creative undertaking accurately reflects all of David’s considerable abilities as a gifted
Photo by Ernie Altgelt.
Author and jazz keyboardist David Norman LEFT with his band. Photo courtesy David Norman.
communicator – whether through word or sound. His reasons for writing the book were many — personal experiences, industry knowledge, geographical awareness and other background familiarities all contributed. But, as David states, “At some point, imagination takes over” and, that’s just what happened here. ‘South of Hannah’ started out as a short a story but when it was finished, David admits that the protagonist’s voice, “just wouldn’t go away.” A longer tale was needed and, after four years of additional, intense writing followed by careful revision, the novel eventually “found itself.” And the exceptional result after so much individual effort was extremely well received. The book garnered an Impress Prize for New Writers Commendation in 2016. A brief synopsis of the story: it emotionally revolves around a very troubled, though talented jazz pianist and part-time academic (Cole Howland), the painful loss of his long-term girl friend, the struggle to maintain mentoring contact with the girl friend’s young pianist daughter (a recognized child prodigy) and assorted other, essential characters (good and bad) that constantly interact, musically, romantically and violently. Throughout it all, Cole finds himself fighting a number of demons – some self-inflicted – as he attempts to bring order to all aspects of his seemingly shattered life. The book’s final pages provide a perfect summation for this passionate account ensuring that readers will not be disappointed. As a side note, David does a wonderful job creating a supporting cast that, as you become engrossed, you’ll never be sure if they’re actual people or not. He’s very convincing in this regard. In closing, to any and all who live, work and play in the communities that coalesce on and around the booming I-35 corridor, this book will be very relatable. If the reader is a jazz aficionado, there’s even more to love. But, really, this is one telling that everyone will definitely enjoy. “South of Hannah” (291 pages. Published by Impress Books, LTD.) is available on Amazon.com. For more information about the book and David, visit www.davidrnorman.com. At this year’s San Antonio Book Fair, David will be reading from “South of Hannah” on Saturday, April 6.