2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
Author: Marie-Helene Bertino
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Philadelphia / Multiple POVs / Jazz Club / Musicians / School Teacher)
Publisher/Publication Date: Crown (8/5/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked very much.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Over twenty-four hours, a gifted but troubled child, a divorced teacher, and the owner of a failing jazz club find joy, sadness, and triumph
Reading Challenges: E-book, NetGalley & Edelweiss
Do I like the cover?: Oh, I love it -- it's so retro and jazzy.
First line: Snow flurries fall in the city.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.
Why did I get this book?: The title -- it's too intriguing to resist!
Review: I was immediately charmed with this book from the first page: the narrative style is musical and playful, the characters varied and full of personality, and the heart of the story emotional without being cloying.
Set on Christmas Eve Eve in Philadelphia, the novel follows a variety of characters who are interconnected in a variety of ways, all colliding together over the course of twenty-four hours.
Our stars are many but focus primarily on three: Madeleine Altimari, 9-years-old ingenue-in-training, whose mother, a jazz singer, recently passed away. Virtually abandoned by her bereft father, Madeleine has taken up smoking, practicing her shimmies daily, and gets into constant trouble at school. I was in love with her from the start -- Bertino makes her childish and mature in realistic ways, and she's both darling and maddening.
Madeleine has no friends. Not because she contains a tender grace that fifth graders detect and loathe. Not because she has a natural ability that points her starward, though she does. Madeleine has no friends because she is a jerk. (p24)The other two primary characters are Sarina Greene, fifth grade teacher to Madeleine and a new divorcee, who ends up in an unexpected reunion with a married high school crush; and Jack Lorca, the owner of The Cat's Pajamas, a formerly famous jazz club, now facing a death sentence from fines and a watchful cop.
The handful of other tertiary characters are vibrant and distinctive like Lorca's son Alex, gifted and desperate for her father's approval; or Mrs. Santiago, an elderly shop owner who is one of the many locals who cares for Madeleine after her mother's untimely death. The cast is large, but easy to keep straight, colorful and delightfully chaotic.
The whole novel is written in present tense, which I didn't really notice while reading -- the immediacy of the day ticking by captured me, as well as Bertino's prose. Like Michael Chabon, her narrative has a musicality to it that emphasizes and enhances the action and events. There's a bit of a magical realism element to the story, too, which I didn't anticipate -- it surprised me at first -- but fits with the story's fairy tale-like arc -- all Madeleine wants is her Happily Ever After (on stage).
A lovely, zippy read, this was fluffy enough for my pre-move brain but intricate-enough that I was captivated while reading. A little twee, a little sweet, a little precocious, this is a great contemporary read for fans of slightly improbable (but magical) days, ensemble story lines, and love songs to our wildest dreams.