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)

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More jazz
Rock & Roll Books
African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston
Jazz's cultural ambassador to Africa beats his drum, or rather piano

Jay Trachtenberg, Dec. 10, 2010

Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler, Already!
Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler, Already!
Cultivating a Mardi Gras tradition in River City

Virginia B. Wood, Feb. 20, 2004

More by Neph Basedow
Top 10 National Albums of 2016
Top 10 National Albums of 2016
Our favorite picks from across the country

Dec. 30, 2016

Critics Poll
Critics Poll

Dec. 30, 2016


jazz, Texas Book Festival 2014, Blossom Dearie

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle