Book ReviewJim Parisi

South of Normal

South of NormalBy Jim Parisi

Norm Schriever used to live in Tamarindo. A couple of times, actually. I met him when he was here for a year, writing a traveler’s memoir, titled “Push-ups in the Prayer Room”, a collection of stories Norm had woven together about his travels around the world a decade earlier. It was also about a young man looking for a humanistic mission in life. I liked it, even gave it a favorable review in The Howler. The book has been put Norm on the map as a credible writer. It also had something of a cathartic effect on him, allowed him to leave something behind as a legacy, positive proof of his existence.

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I know because I’ve just finished reading “South of Normal: My Year in Paradise”, Norm’s chronicle of living in Tamarindo for a year, with the three goals of composing his first book, getting physically and mentally healthy again and finding happiness. He was smart to keep notes during his stay here: “South” proves he is an accredited writer, not a one trick pony. I regard it as a handy guide for anyone wanting to pull up stakes, relocate and navigate in a new culture. Specifically, it’s a wonderful inside glimpse of life here in Tamarindo, complete with all our quirky customs and personalities. For this reason, it’s earned a place in my heart. But “South of Normal” also picks up where “Push-ups” left off, finding our writer at a crossroads in his life. He’s out of shape and completely dissatisfied in The States – the Rat Race was taking its toll. So he does what so many dream about but so few follow through on: he pulls the plug and free-falls into Central America, following his heart, not his brain, and writing his book, the one he had been postponing for ten years.

In the introduction, Schriever explains that he is a traveler. He is also an objective camera, but with compassion and a sense of humor. The opening of “South” is jarring. The writer has just returned to Costa Rica and heads to a prison outside Liberia to visit a gringo friend who is there for growing marihuana. It’s not pretty, but Norm is able to blend humor even into this bleak scenario. Throughout the book, Norm returns to visit his incarcerated friend and repeat his mantra about getting back into shape and making a mark in the world. It’s no surprise that he discovers a connection between his physical and mental states of depletion, as the two mend symbiotically.

And as Norm pursues his “metaphysical journey to consciousness”, it becomes apparent that in “South of Normal”, there is a sense of completion for the writer that began in “Push-ups”. He also has a blast with his sardonic wit, depicting life in a culture where logic often takes a back seat. His portrayals of local personalities are spot-on and hilarious, touching and human at the same time. There are many poignant interactions for Norm in this book, both with other people and by himself.

Norm spent a year in San Juan del Sur and The States writing “South of Normal”. So, what’s next for this established writer?  He told me he wants to find a little hut on some obscure beach in Southeast Asia and write a “small” book, perhaps about the plight of children in the Third World. There he goes, leaving his legacy again. I know he left one in Tamarindo. I hope he finds his hut.

You can find both of Norm’s books at his website: