2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajama’s is the best debut novel I’ve ever read. Marie-Helene Bertino writes like Kurt Vonnegut without the sci-fi, (though fantastical elements do show up). She —
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, ‘fuck 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.”
Photo by OZinOH https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/