Despite the grief and sadness, Billie’s Ghost is ultimately a tale of hope and redemption. This slim volume will haunt you long after you have turned the last page and make you want to re-discover the music of Billie Holliday and other jazz greats.
Reviewed by Roberta Austin
by Chad Hautmann
Paperback: 176 pages
Plume Books; (October 26, 2004)
It has been almost a year since Casey’s wife, Virginia, died and he can’t seem to climb out of his bottomless pit of grief and depression. His friends have given up and even a therapist is not much help. Casey finds escape at night with drinking and jazz, which his wife taught him to love. “Tragedy threads the tapestry of jazz.” , Casey feels. Casey takes the blame for his wife’s death, even though its direct cause was from a tired Canadian tourist driving to Florida.
Just when Casey is at his lowest point, a young black woman, who calls herself Eleanora drops into her life. Her look and voice bear an uncanny resemblance to Billie Holiday. Is she real or a hallucination brought on by Casey’s drinking and mental state? Will the mysterious Eleanora be able to help Casey find his way back to the real world and deal with his self-recriminations?
In Casey, the author has created a flawed, but wonderfully empathetic protagonist. As the story is unfolded layer by layer, we see why Casey has gotten to such as low point in his life. The first person narration is perfect for this novel. The reader does not learn as much about Eleanora, but that is done to preserve the mystery. Vivid descriptions of the setting give a true sense of place. The reader can almost feel the sultry nights of Naples, Florida.
Jazz is the perfect metaphor for the melancholy tone of the book. The reader can almost hear a sad saxophone solo in the background. If we have lived long enough, we can identify with one of Casey’s most sorrowful, yet profound musings. “I don’t know when I first realized that the best of life was probably behind me. But somewhere along the road I learned patience, acceptance, and the simple desire to survive had to replace excitement, enthusiasm, and the thrill of just being alive.”
Despite the grief and sadness, Billie’s Ghost is ultimately a tale of hope and redemption. This slim volume will haunt you long after you have turned the last page and make you want to re-discover the music of Billie Holliday and other jazz greats. This is Mr. Hautmann’s debut novel and with his lyrical, yet realistic style he is certainly a fresh new voice on the literary scene.
About the Reviewer: Roberta Austin was born in Roanoke , Virginia, and as an army child, she spent most of her young life traveling to Germany, Japan, Texas, Maryland and Georgia. With librarians and teachers in her background, she learned to read at 5 and has been an avid reader ever since. Currently residing in Atlanta GA, she works as a Library Assistant; a dream job for a book addict.