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2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas Hardcover – August 5, 2014
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"Delightful...[This] story has it all."—Time Out New York
“Inventive, gorgeously written and unforgettable."--NPR
“Enchanting…Rich and real…The book feels lively, with the jostling energy of…well, a club.”—The Millions
"Set in a famous Philadelphia jazz club, this uplifting novel centers on three lonely people — including a precocious 9-year-old who dreams of becoming a singer — and their fateful search for companionship over the course of one Christmas Eve night."—Bustle.com
"The story of a lonely 9-year-old girl’s quest to perform at a Philadelphia jazz club on Christmas Eve rolls along much like a piece of music — different story lines wind and unwind like musical themes, and these stories are all threaded together with a consistently energized brio like one of the tunes played at the club giving the book its title. Each sentence, as well, is composed with a poetic ear; no line is wasted. That’s rare.” –San Francisco Chronicle
"Exposes both the beauty and burden of urban living…A clever tale of missed opportunities and seized ones, Cat’s Pajamas’ characters mirror the story’s inspiration. Like jazz, they’re unruly, improvised, and endlessly impassioned.”–Austin Chronicle
“The novel’s true genius, though, is [Bertino's] wry insight into her delightful characters…crafted by a writer who shows that less is more, and that perfectly worded less is magic.” -- The Philadelphia City Paper
"Bertino conveys heartbreak and hopefulness in this lyrical, outlandish story that’s infused with grit and moments of truth...wonderfully weird and witty... magical."--Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
“[2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is] funny and sad and full of a lyricism that is as rare as it is appreciated.” -- The L Magazine
“[2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas] is the most charming thing I have ever read in my entire existence on this planet…Come for the beauty and heartbreak, stay for the funny one-liners.” - Book Riot
“The purely original construction of an irresistible story… Readers will fall in love…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?” —Library Journal (starred review)
“A torch song to the power of jazz, determination and serendipity….Bertino's carefully crafted verbal cadence gives Philadelphia a thumping heartbeat that captures the feel of the jazz medium perfectly… Funny and wise, this first novel will leave readers with smiles on their faces and a song in their hearts--something with a little swing to it, naturally.”—Shelf Awareness
"Vibrant...Bertino's characters are spot-on, and her special brand of humor brings each one to life in this fresh and charming tale."—Booklist
“2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas won me over heart and soul. With Madeleine Altimari, a nine year old aspiring jazz singer with a wonderful talent for cursing, Bertino has created one of the most winning and wonderful characters I've met in a long time. Read this book to see a debut author doing something really special, crafting a story where human kindness meets up with an inhospitable world and real magic happens in the aftermath.” – Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of The Family Fang
"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
“2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is beautiful, alive, and moving. Marie-Helene Bertino has a mesmerizing way with words… [This is] one of those books that stays in your head long after you’ve finished it, like a song.”—Sara Crowe, author of Campari for Breakfast
“Sympathetic characters and an evocative setting combine in a story that takes some most unexpected turns. It’s thrilling to see bravery reminiscent of short story-telling translate into a novel. The dénouement had me in tears, in stitches and then doing a double take at an ending that seems to come out of nowhere.”—Claire King, author of The Night Rainbow
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
I'll be honest. I'm still not sure what to think about the book. I alternated between delighted (with the spare, quirky prose, the detailed settings, and authentic characters) and frustrated (with the authentic characters) and occasionally confused (with the random fantastical element) while reading it. I stayed up finishing it later than I planned (a good recommendation), but I couldn't put a conclusion into words when I finished. That's not a bad thing unless, like me, you like to put things like answers and endings in their place.
I'm glad I read it, and I'll be recommending it to my reader friends. I hope I get a taker because I want to discuss it with someone.
Wait. You know what? You should just go buy the book. Now. Then, after you read it, come back here and we'll chat about it.
It's okay; I'll wait.
No, seriously. Did you think I was kidding? Go get the book!
Okay, I guess I'll have to trust you to be honest. Did you love the way it made you laugh out loud, even in a quiet room? Did people look at you strangely when you talked back to your Kindle? Did you love the perfect turn of phrase Bertino always seemed to find? Not the most beautiful, or the most amusing, or the most poignant, but the right one for this character at this point in the story?
"Even jerks have mothers who die."
"What do fifth grade teachers wish for?"
"...a stomachache he can only call Christmas."
Could you feel the way the city -- stifling, gloriously irascible Philadelphia -- becomes a character herself?
"The city is in a perpetual state of being not quite ready to talk about it."
"Snoring plumes of frustration in the harbor."
"You are never allowed to dream higher than the hat of William Penn."
And the characters! Nine year old Madeleine -- the motherless, ill-mannered, anti-cherub, who wants nothing more than to be a jazz singer like her mother -- a little girl with everything and nothing ahead of her. Sarina -- recently divorced elementary school teacher -- who has traveled so far only to wind up back where she started. Jack Lorca -- failed lover, failing father -- trying to keep from become a failed jazz club owner. Not the mention the gaggle of supporting characters who salsa onto the stage and capture your heart, if only for a few hundred words.
Characters who are:
"As serious as you can be with a girl who has never heard of Steely Dan."
who are wrapped up in
" ...a drummer's love story. [...] If you could separate your body into four distinct rhythms, you'd be cracked too."
And all in one 24-hour period! How is that possible?
I'll tell you how it's possible. It's possible because Marie-Helene Bertino writes a story of hope above all else. And hope, as much as the perpetual present tense of the story, is what propels the action forward. It's a story of possibilities, and second (and third and fourth and...) chances.
I'll leave it for Madeleine's giant dream cockroach Clarence to sum it up:
"Where do you think I would be if I listened to every 'Get out of here' or 'Call the Realtor, we're moving.' [...] It's time to grow a set of balls. Learn how to say, 'f*** it.' Otherwise, you're never going to leave the house, like Old Mr. So and So..."
So, yes, dear ones, you are correct that life isn't fair. Except for when it is more than fair. And the only solution to that -- no, the only way to live inside that -- is this: "DO WHAT SCARES YOU." For: "Just because your mother is dead doesn't give you the right to suck."
Oh, but please, please, please remember this:
"BRING A SCARF."