From the Publisher
"Marie-Helene Bertino bops across Philadelphia like an alleycat on the run, energetic and wild. Her sentences are sharp and surprising, and her wonderful story is full of heart. There is funny poetry in the sound of loneliness, and Bertino has found it." —Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers and Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures
“Clever, charming and full of life…Like the best jazz, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas is a marvel of the unexpected, a buoyant, swinging tale of interwoven destinies that Marie-Helene Bertino tells with verve, wit, and warmth. I loved it.” —Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements"
“2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas is as winning and funny as the nine year-old at its heart, and I love it for the way its protagonists turn their back on their city’s cruddiness and their own losses to proclaim their happiness to be in this world. They offer wryness as the antidote to self-pity and benevolence as the antidote to isolation, and they demonstrate how even the most forsaken can turn themselves into a warm, dry house.” —Jim Shepard, National Book Award shortlisted author of Like You’d Understand, Anyway
“2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is a recipe box full of wonders. With a wildly entertaining cast of characters, Marie-Helene Bertino soars through her native city of Philadelphia, zeroing in with great beauty, wit, skill and love on the exact moments in time that change our lives forever.” —Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
"Once you enter the imagination of Marie-Helene Bertino—a world as weird as it is warm—you will not want to leave. Each sentence is a pop-up box: first delightful for its sweet music, then profound with the shock of truth. This is a dazzling book."—Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
Madeleine Altimari is in the fifth grade and wants to be a jazz singer. Despite her mother’s recent death and her father’s descent into an opaque and private mourning, she is trying to keep her fingers snapping and her brassy voice at the ready. Sarina Greene is Madeleine’s teacher and, after a recent divorce and a return to her hometown of Philadelphia, she is trying very hard to keep the faith that something worthwhile will come of it all. These two make for companionable allies, and it’s easy to share in the affection they feel for one another. Tougher to accept—or at least keep track of—is the mosaic of many, many other characters to whom Sarina and Madeleine find themselves linked. Although it’s to Bertino’s (Safe as Houses) credit that she has invented, sketched, connected, and geographically located such an elaborate cast, and in the process established what does genuinely feel like an old neighborhood at Christmastime, remembering who’s who is often a challenge. While the jazzy intentions are noble, the toe-tapping, bebopping tone Bertino aims for feels forced—a melody we can see Madeleine shimmying along to, but not ever quite hear for ourselves. (Aug.)
Almost ten years old, Madeleine Altimari is a self-described "poor motherless girl in old stockings." Often hungry but pragmatically compensating for her grieving father's neglect, she's a mouthy old soul who doesn't play nice with others. What Madeleine does do is live and breathe jazz. On Christmas Eve, she is determined, at all costs, to sing at a run-down Philadelphia jazz bar called the Cat's Pajamas. Her teacher Sarina Greene whose love for an old flame is unrequited (or so she thinks) is also drawn to the Cat's Pajamas. Lorca, the bar's owner, has just been informed that his bar will be shut down unless he comes up with an impossible sum of money to cover his countless citations and bring the place up to code. That these threads converge is a given. The surprise is in the purely original construction of an irresistible story that takes place in just 24 hours. VERDICT By the fourth sentence of the first page, readers will fall in love with debut author Bertino; delighted adoration of Madeleine will take another half page. This assured, moving, brilliantly funny tale of music, mourning, and off-kilter romance entrances with its extraordinarily inventive language. Be prepared for a quick reread of this novel to try to answer the question: How did Bertino do that? [See Prepub Alert, 2/3/14.]—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Bertino, who won the Iowa Short Fiction Award for her collection Safe as Houses (2012), aims to pull heartstrings in her first novel, which is set in Philadelphia and follows a cast of cute/quirky characters hour by hour as their lives converge two days before Christmas.Fifth-grader Madeleine Altimari is pretty much raising herself; her father has retreated into his bedroom in a drug-induced stupor to numb his grief since the death of Madeleine’s mother—a strip-club dancer and free spirit beloved by all who knew her. Madeleine is lonely, precocious and sassy, her tough exterior hiding her own heartache. Mrs. Santiago, the warmhearted widow who runs the neighborhood cafe, provides breakfast, lunch and grandmotherly affection, but Madeleine has no friends at her Catholic elementary school. Her solace is singing—she’s a natural who yearns to be a jazz singer. Madeleine’s day begins badly when Principal Randles, who resented Madeleine’s mother even when they were kids, first deprives Madeleine of a solo at the school’s morning Mass and later unfairly expels her. (A school in session on Dec. 23 and a principal expelling a child without some kind of parent meeting both hint at less-than-realistic storytelling.) Then Madeleine learns there's a jazz club in Philadelphia and decides to find it. Madeleine’s teacher, Sarina Greene, who also frequents Mrs. Santiago’s cafe, feels terrible about Madeleine’s expulsion, but what can she do? Besides, she’s coping with her own crisis: Having returned to Philly after a divorce, she's been invited to a dinner party with old friends, including a former boyfriend. Meanwhile, across town, the police warn Jack Lorca that he'll have to close his jazz club, The Cat’s Pajamas, if there are any more code violations. But he’s promised to let his musically talented, teenage (i.e. underage) son play in the house band tonight. As the hours pass, the various storylines thread together.While some will find this seasonal sweetness charming, others will find it maddeningly contrived.