2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino had a premise that I was extremely excited about. I love to sing and have been obsessed with music and musicians as long as I can remember. As I dove into this novel about a little girl who was an aspiring jazz singer, I was remembering myself as a weird little kid, singing along with Doris Day and The Les Brown Orchestra records until my family was ready to throttle me.
Although there were many passages that I enjoyed, and the author's vivid descriptions spoke to me, the novel had me more than a little confused with its odd, disjointed stories and insertion of moments that I wasn't sure were dreams, magic or drug-addled reality. I just didn't get it, and was left very unsatisfied.
Here is what the publisher has to say about the story on the inside cover of the dust jacket:
An enchanting and staggeringly original debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters
Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.
As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.
That is a lot of promise for a book. Did I laugh out loud? I did. Once. When Madeline's character went on a profanity laced description of how she was going to sell "Here I Am Lord" at her school's mass on the 23rd of December. I went to Catholic school and I remember that song and the high pressure that soloing would come with. But here is where I started to wonder what the heck was going on.
The viewpoint of the passing time shifts suddenly, awkwardly and often. Madeline takes on most of the early hours while Lorca, the club owner of the Cat's Pajamas and Sarina, Madeline's teacher and unexpected friend take over the later hours while Madeline naps. I understood the convention, but at the same time couldn't wrap my head around the events because this fictional world doesn't seem based in reality.
In my world, children aren't in school on the 23rd of December and they sure as heck aren't singing non-Christmas songs at mass during the Advent season. They also don't wander the streets unattended, and if shop keepers come upon them in the middle of the night they would be calling for the police rather than handing out meatball sandwiches. It may seem funny or odd, but these plot points really bothered me. I couldn't stop wondering where this was likely to occur and how there was hardly a nod to the Christmas season in the book save a strand of twinkle lights that were yet to be hung in the club.
Many of the characters had such odd responses to their problems that I wondered who these people were, and I didn't find out in the pages of the book. I wanted to know them more, and would've been happy to delve further into the world of Lorca's ex Louisa, or Madeline's caretaker and friend Mrs. Santiago, but when these characters appear they are cannoned in and out of the story in bright bursts which only give you a glimpse at them and I needed more to make sense of it all.
In all I would give this book two out of five stars. It was okay and there were parts that I really found lovely. Sarina and Ben's banter and reminiscing and Madeline's internal monologue were treats. But in the end I was left feeling like I had been told a lengthy joke and I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn't get the punchline because I had zoned out along the way. I was laughing politely when I wanted to be one of the cool kids slapping their knees. It's possible I'm just not cool enough to get this book. I am a nerd who hugs books she loves to her chest when I finish them to thank them for speaking to me. This book didn't get a hug.
If you would like to find out more about Marie-Helene Bertino you can visit her Twitter profile or her Facebook page. She has another offering entitled Safe As Houses which is a collection of short stories. I may read this at some point because I feel the author would be great in the short story format and that her expressive language and character vignettes would be more pleasurable to read if I weren't searching for the payoff this novel seemed to promise.
Blogging for Books provided me with my copy of 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas for review. It will be available for puchase on August 5th, 2014.
A short note about the cover - I loved it. It was pearlized and was the pale turquoise of kitchen appliance in the 1950's. The font is incredibly fun and nostalgic and what I would expect to be on a marquee of a jazz club that may be fading into a bit of obscurity. Admittedly, I often choose books based on the promise of a beautiful cover, but this one was more about the blurb since the cover was all text. Still - it's pretty and it would catch my eye if it was front faced on a store shelf.
If you decide to check this book out, I hope you love it - if you have read it and have a different opinion let's chat! Leave a comment and tel me why you loved it or what you thought of the book. I welcome your inputand opinions and would love to hear your thoughts. Much Love and good reading to all of you!