Published by Crown
Publication date: August 5th 2014
Author Marie-Helene Bertino creates an unusual and charming story in 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas in that while it takes place in the 24 hours before Christmas Eve the only thing Christmas-like about it is that it brings together a disparate group of travelers, all looking for salvation. There is nine-year-old Madeleine; Lorca, the owner of The Cat’s Pajamas—Philadelphia’s best jazz club; and Sarina Green, a middle school teacher. All three have tribulations that are confusing to them—Madeleine has been expelled from school for punching a boy who threw away her treasure, Lorca owes $30,000 in fines on the club, and Sarina is returning to her hometown after a divorce. They are an unlikely trio but all are on their way to the only place to be late on a snowy night—The Cat’s Pajamas.
In the real world few things are more annoying than a precocious nine-year-old but in fiction it can be damn funny and in 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas Madeleine Altimari is hilarious. She is a foul-mouthed little girl living alone with her drugged out father who cannot get over the death of her beloved mother. All she wants is the opportunity to sing the way her mother did but events at school conspire against her. Furious and bereft, she eavesdrops on her favorite teacher, Sarina, who has encountered her high school boyfriend at a Christmas party. Their parting back then had not gone well and yet the attraction is still there so they decide to head to The Cat’s Pajamas. Little do they know that Madeleine is following them, determined to get her chance. And what none of them know is that The Cat’s Pajamas is hanging on by a thread and is likely to close for good that night.
2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is a stream-of-consciousness narrative, meaning, in this case, what poured out of Bertino’s head at any given moment while she was writing. She matches words with other words they’ve never met before, adds the alcohol of her wit and produces a cocktail so sublimely funny, that I was mentally drunk by the end of the novel. My brain was fizzy with delight as Bertino ground magical realism into the grit of real-life. A cockroach talking to a nine-year-old? A nine-year-old whose singing makes things levitate? The novel could have been a hot mess but Bertino isn’t riffing here, every unexpected pairing of words and sentences, every non-sequitur, is precisely placed. The Cat’s Pajamas is quirky but so well-executed it comes off like a late night gathering with old friends—warm, silly, and sometimes awkward but in that way only the closest of friends can be.
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