Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review of 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

What an odd book this is! The premise is that an assortment of characters –including a grieving, smart-mouthed nine-year-old with a killer voice, a fifth grade art teacher looking to re-start her life after a divorce, and a jazz club owner with a bevy of problematic relationships and a club that is failing – careen toward Christmas over a 24 hour period. The writing is confusing and circular and occasionally so piercing I could hardly stand it – almost like jazz itself.

The setting – Philadelphia – is also a character here. The alleyways and rooftops and street corners all have a role to play in bringing all of the disparate people together (at 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve, when the jazz club needs to close its doors or face sanction).

For me, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is not the cat’s meow. The author's stylistic choices – which are essential to making this a distinctive book – got in my way. I was always a reader here, never fully sinking into the story. But I do see how this kind of literary playfulness could be someone’s cup of tea, especially a music lover or someone who is looking for an urban story that is not centered in New York City.  I’d say that this all the makings of a screenplay, but it seems so very similar to Love Actually (This book is better).

My big quibble – the ending! What? I don’t get it, and it made me want to scream.

One thing that this book made me think about is other novels that have larger-than-life child protagonists. Madeleine, in many ways the centerpiece of this book, is like no other nine-year-old I've met. Do you like ultra-precocious characters? Which are your favorites? Here's a 2010 article about the topic on The Millions.

Want to learn more about this book? You can find an interesting interview with the author here and here.

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