2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

by Marie-Helene Bertino


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

An enchanting novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters as they search for love, music, and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia
Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.
Together, Madeleine, Sarina, and Lorca will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804140256
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 10/27/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 372,044
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.59(d)

About the Author

Marie Helene-Bertino is the author of Safe as Houses, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize. An Emerging Writer Fellow at New York's Center for Fiction, she has spent six years as an editor and writing instructor at One Story. A Philadelphia native, she currently lives in Brooklyn.


Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Marie-Helene Bertino

The stories of a nine-year-old aspiring jazz singer, an aging music club owner, and a lovestruck teacher come together in Marie-Helene Bertino's smashing and assured debut. Bertino talks about moving from writing short stories to long-form fiction, the difference between longing and loneliness, and how music informs her writing, and much more in this free-ranging conversation for the Barnes & Noble Review. — Miwa Messer, Director, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers

Your collection Safe as Houses won the University of Iowa's Short Fiction Award and a Pushcart Prize. How did you make the transition from short fiction to the novel? Were there any surprises along the way?

How did I make the transition? Gently. And often. I switched back and forth from writing 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas to the stories that made up my first collection, Safe as Houses.

You know how you go on vacation and take a beautiful photo of your beloved on the beach? And at home you fiddle with the photograph in your photo editing program of choice, and you think, I bet this would look better in black and white? So you click the "black and white" button (ah, technology!) and the result is strangely unsatisfying. Gone is the blue of the beach, the lavender of your boo's hair. Something that worked in the color photo doesn't translate.

It's the same with writing short stories and novels. Anyone who thinks a novel is just a short story, but longer, will feel unsatisfied if they ever decide to punish themselves by writing a novel. Each form has its own "rules," sound, preoccupations, and strengths. You can't just click a button. I've tried.

Honestly, the biggest surprise along the way was how loyal I was to writing this novel. For twelve years, when no earthly presence was making it seem like a good idea, while my doubts grew and the size of my apartment shrank, I returned again and again to the same twenty-four hours in Philadelphia, tweaking this interaction, inventing this character, retooling the descriptions diligently until they did what I wanted — after any other sane person would have given up — until I figured, Well, I guess I'm not sane, because I loved this story and because it was fun.

Nine-year-old Madeleine Altimari has the voice of a torch singer and a stubborn streak. How much of yourself do you see in Madeleine?

Besides the unfortunate bowl haircut and the fear of roaches (paralyzing!), not much. Madeleine is a wish I made. She is way braver than I was, more willing to go it alone. Though I liked to sing when I was little, my voice wasn't anywhere near her prodigious range. She curses in front of adults and is not interested in boys at all. I was kind of boy crazy (see later list of '60s musicians). However, the way Madeleine feels about singing is the way I feel about writing. Tenacity beats through both of our hearts. But I'll tell you a secret: I'm way more like Pedro (the dog with wanderlust).

Emma Straub writes, "There is funny poetry in the sound of loneliness, and Bertino has found it." How does loneliness underpin the choices your characters make?

Most of the characters in 2 A.M.at The Cat's Pajamas are longing for something. Longing is loneliness — with a job! I think it's one of the most narrative of emotions. It drives us to do wonderful/terrible things. It directly influences Sarina's decision to brave the party. She is trying to say yes to more things because she worries she is hiding out in her own life. Madeleine's longing for her mother is why she sings, though, like many of us, she doesn't realize it. Pedro is one of my favorite characters because he is so much more aware of his loneliness than the others. He is in love and is not sure with whom. Longing lives inside of him right next to joie de vivre. The closest salve he knows is to explore endlessly.

Jazz — and music on the whole — is a buoyant force in the novel. What kind of research did you do? What did you listen to while you were writing?

In a way, I've always been a student of music. I grew up singing and performing in musical theater. I played the piano (horribly). I was bananas over music from the 1960s: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Nick Drake. I was a music writer for three years in New York, and in the last year of revising, I took guitar lessons. It was exactly as difficult as I thought it would be, and my respect for people who are good at playing instruments grew. One of my best pals is Shawn Aileen Clark, a jazz singer. I had her read a final draft and bit my nails off while I waited. She pointed out a few things only someone who has led a jazz band for fifteen years would know, which was thrilling. The songs I listened to are referenced here and there in the text, and there is a mix I made of them on Spotify (spoti.fi/1sHQJxv).

The way the cast of characters comes together for the finale at 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas has a madcap, cinematic quality. If this book were a film, whom would you cast?

Like pie in the sky, anyone I want? Mark Ruffalo is the only man I could ever see playing Lorca. No question. Done. I think Kristen Wiig would make a great Sarina Greene. She could bring the full range of light and dark tones I intended. And I would pray for a heretofore unknown crazy- talented little girl to play Madeleine, who is hopefully out there right now, singing her heart out and not thinking about show business at all.

You worked on 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas for twelve years. How do you know when to stop working on a project?

Part of what took so long is that I had to grow into the person who could write this book.

A few years ago I asked my mother to send me her secret recipe for homemade pizza. She's been making it for a million years and it's become so second nature. So, she sent me this gorgeous email with hilarious references and side notes, attempting to explain ambiguous measurements. One of my favorites had to do with how much flour to use. She wrote: "It could take 2 1/2 cups or 3. The dough will tell you when it's dough."

In 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas, the #1 rule of singing is listed as KNOW YOURSELF. I think this might be the #1 rule for everything; definitely writing. When you know yourself, you know what you are and are not capable of. You can trick yourself into being smarter and more creative. And you can listen fully to your project. You can learn how to tell when the dough is telling you it's dough.

Whom have you discovered lately?

One of my superpowers is discovering things a million years after everyone else does. And then passionately describing them to others who are like, yeah, we've heard of Drake already. So, I just discovered the super-fine stories of Caitlin Horrocks, whom Barnes & Noble discovered three years ago.

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2 a.m. at The Cat's Pajamas 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
I hesitate to admit this, but I didn't mean to request an ARC of this book. Fortunately, I could not have made a more pleasant mistake. Despite my utter lack of interest in jazz, I was enthralled by Marie-Helene Bertino's tale of a precocious nine-year-old who dreams of singing jazz as her deceased mother did. The events in 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas take place over the course of a single twenty-four-hour period, and I likewise read it in a single sitting. I was surprised to find that Bertino is not primarily a poet; her prose has the same syncopated rhythm as a Langston Hughes poem or, come to think of it, scat singing. Listen to Philadelphia coming to life at 7:30 on a cold December morning: "As the dog awakens, the city awakens. Crust on its windshields and hungry. Snorting plumes of frustration in the harbor. Scratching its traffic on the expressway." Can't you hear the drum brushes and the double bass in the background? At times, Bertino gets a bit carried away, as when "[c]louds flinch across the mackerel sky, bottoms silvered by the deferring sun," but such clunky notes are few and far between. 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas is full of life and music. Put on some Ella Fitzgerald and enjoy the day with Madeleine, Sarina and Ben, Lorca and Alex, and the Cubanistas. And don't forget to admire that cover! I received a free copy of 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marie-Helene Bertino's writing is so one-of-a-kind... it's the type of book where you reread paragraphs because they are so incredibly well-written, your heart soars, or sinks.  Or jumps.  Great story, great read, I want more from this author!!
mshoni More than 1 year ago
Madeline Santiago smokes cigarettes, has the mouth of a sailor, and is very serious about being a jazz singer. She’s only 9 years old, though, so each of those things can be a problem. Her mother passed away a year ago leaving her father in a depression so deep that he rarely leaves his room, so Madeline is basically on her own with help from a few people in her Philadelphia neighborhood. 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas covers just the span of one day, Christmas Eve Eve, in the life of Madeline, her teacher, Sarina Greene, and Lorca, the owner of the jazz club, The Cat’s Pajamas. Madeline’s story was the most interesting to me and the reason that I chose to read this book. Her desire to sing the music that her parents loved so much keeps her motivated despite all of the obstacles thrown in her way. Her determination is inspiring. Moving back to her hometown after a recent divorce, Sarina is reconnecting with old friends and navigating getting back into the patterns of those relationships. Lorca is faced with losing the jazz club that has become the most important thing in his life at the expense of his son and girlfriend. I loved the interconnected of the stories of these three along with other people in the neighborhood as everyone moves through what turns out to be a very special day. Bertine manages to tell this tale and provide enough back story without the reader getting lost. There was a section about 3/4’s in and also during the ending of the book that left me scratching my head. I wasn’t sure if it was a dream sequence or not and it really distracted me from the story and left the ending a little off to me. Aside from that, I did enjoy the book and was mostly satisfied with how events played out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would like to thank Ms. Bertino for sleep deprivation as I could not put this book down! What an enjoyable romp through the streets of Philadelphia and into the lives of these delicious characters. Please don't let us wait too long for the next novel.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
A young girl dreaming about signing, a young teacher trying to find love, and a club owner who is hoping to keep his family business open through many hurdles.  All three of these characters get the chance to share their own story and this book takes place all in one day with the time ticking through the book. Not my favorite book with a whole heck of a lot of quirky characters and not one really grabbed me in one way or another, this book just kind of fell flat for me.  If you are a fan of of books filled with quirk then this one may be more up your alley than it was mine.
Anonymous 6 months ago
The book kept me intrigued as I wanted to make sense of everything. Don’t be surprised if all your questions aren’t answered. After reading the interview with the author I was a little more at peace.
samwell24 More than 1 year ago
This was such a fun read. The language is full of color and humor, which balances out the loneliness the writer explores in each of the characters. I liked how each little chapter shifts perspective. Everyone is treated like the start of their own story, giving us a bigger picture of the dreams and disappointments in this particular Philly community.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OMG what a thrill. I love this book so much. It kept me in rapture for the few days I spent reading it. And I think I will definitely read it again. Sooo good. The author's voice is amazing in this book, and I'll be looking for other works by her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WOW! This is clearly the best book I'll read this year!!! It's a brilliant mix of believable characters, their personal issues and loves. It deserves awards and is perfect for both the avid reader and university classroom!
RLN-21 More than 1 year ago
2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino: There is just something about this book. That is the best way I can describe this book. There was just something about it that was so engaging, and yet, a slight let down at the same time. It is a great story with such vivid characters. It is a day in the life kind of book, perhaps that is part of the let down; you meet and are just getting to know these characters, wanting to learn and know more and more about them...and then the story is over. You get to see a glimpse of who they are through one day of events. Are these events of the day extraordinary, or is this an ordinary day for the characters? This is part of the reason this book was so good and so disappointing at the same time. One reason that books are always better than movies is the intimacy you share with the characters. You are inside of their heads knowing their thoughts and their feelings. You do not get that with this book, but that almost makes the characters more realistic. In life, not matter how well you know someone, you will never be inside of their mind, you may be able to guess some things from knowing them so well, but not everything. That is what it is like with these characters, you learn just enough to want to know them more. An enchanting day, where you meet people you want to get to know better, with a unique perspective and a story you wished lasted longer. *I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/236091/2-am-at-the-cats-pajamas-by-marie-helene-bertino/ http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/187571/marie-helene-bertino/
19269684 More than 1 year ago
I'm not even going to lie, I didn't like this book. When I saw the cover, I thought- Oh this is adorable! I expected a cute story to go along with it. Instead, 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, offered a foul-mouthed little girl, a kind-hearted teacher and careless club owner. The story's about a Catholic, school girl who is treated poorly by her principal, refused even the simplest of school duties and a bit disheartened at the loss of her mother. She wants one thing more than anything else: to sing. It's also about a woman who's returned home after a divorce, looking to start over and possibly get together with a long, lost love. Lastly, there's the jazz club owner who's about to lose his place because he can't afford to pay thirty-thousand dollars for breaking just about every rule he'd been warned against, at least seven times! The story spans 24-hours and tells how the three of them come together and help each other out to accomplish something spectacular. But the way it's told, I wasn't sure if I wanted to laugh or growl and chuck the book in the rubbish bin! It's like the book was composed part poetry, part crud. I couldn't even begin to care for Madelaine, the 9-year old: she smoked, cursed like three sailors and then- when she sings, "things happen." It was ridiculous! I was overjoyed when I finished this book. Boy, it was a bust. On to the next read! For more reviews: http://tinyurl.com/pjwse2y
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was good.something different for a change.i read more FBI csi etc.mysteries murders books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a good book, but so sad. The book was great, the ending not so much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A new American classic, or should be.