2 a.m at The Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino (2014)

Genre: Borderline Fantasy
Interest Level: Adult
2 a.m. at the Cat's PajamasA deftly written genre-bending blend of romance, magic, and gritty realism combine weirdly well to create a surprisingly gripping story. It’s Christmas Eve Eve, and the book opens with nine-year-old Madeleine who is effectively raising herself, and doing a helluva job, if you please. Her father is paralyzed with grief over his wife’s death. While he sleeps away the day, Madeleine eats breakfast at a neighbour’s deli cafe, gets her hair cut by her mother’s stylist, and spends her spare time smoking cigarettes and singing to jazz records. School can only be described as a disaster – Madeleine is a bully without a following who shocks school officials with her mastery of curse words.
Her teacher Sarina is rebuilding her life after a divorce, still pining for the high school love who snubbed her at the prom (really? twenty years later and you are still longing for this guy?) and sublimating her emotions by burying herself in her work. Jack Lorca is facing financial ruin at The Cat’s Pajamas, the jazz bar where all three lives will intersect at, you guessed it, 2 a.m. Bertino’s writing is astonishingly vivid and textured: “We carry our ancestors in our names and sometimes we carry our ancestors through the sliding doors of emergency rooms and either way they are heavy, man, either way we can’t escape.” She’s also viciously funny, describing Catholic confirmation as the holy spirit saying, “oh, there you are.” And she can wound you so quickly you barely notice the cut until you feel unexpected pain: “… but she must be quiet, like cancer.” The plot is slow to develop, but it’s an enjoyable process from the first page. And at some undefinable point, you find yourself truly engrossed in the story. My one criticism is the high-school flame story arc. ‘Nuff said. My thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy of this debut title.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18815488

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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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