Book Review: 2am at the Cat's Pajamas

Marie-Helene Bertino

2am at the Cat's Pajamas

2am at the Cat's Pajamas

by Marie-Helene Bertino, Crown Publishers, 272pp., $25

A book about jazz, this debut novel reads like soul. In the span of one snowy Philadelphia day, Christmas Eve Eve, 2am at the Cat's Pajamas trails three leads: 9-year-old loner Madeleine, who dances to Blossom Dearie's bebop piano while smoking her late mother's cigarettes and dreaming of singing like her parent at legendary jazz club, the Cat's Pajamas; venue owner Lorca, who struggles to keep his flailing bar afloat; and newly divorced teacher Sarina, serendipitously reunited with her high school flame. Hilariously heartwarming and, at times, harshly realistic, the sassy fifth-grade protagonist invites empathy, quietly comparing her precociously hardboiled know-how to classmate Clare Kelly's perfect braids, perfect life, despite her flippant foul-mouth. ("Madeleine has no friends because she is a jerk," Bertino writes of a character who relies on advice scribbled onto note cards by her mother, one year passed.) Homage to her native Philly, the Brooklyn-based author exposes both the beauty and burden of urban living. ("Good morning, the city says. Fuck you.") A clever tale of missed opportunities and seized ones, Cat's Pajamas' characters mirror the story's inspiration. Like jazz, they're unruly, improvised, and endlessly impassioned. (Sat., 2:15pm, Texas State Capitol Rm. E2.028)

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