“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.”
What is this book about?
It’s Christmas Eve Eve in Philadelphia and the streets are covered with snow, while the characters that circle around the jazz bar The Cat’s Pajamas go around their business. We follow Madeleine, a precocious 9 year old jazz singer with a love for menthol cigarettes, her school teacher Sarina with high school crush Ben, the owner of the jazz bar and his son and the evil principal of Madeleine’s school, because every story needs a villain. They move in and out of each others lives during the day culminating at – you’ve guessed it – 2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas.
Why is it boring?
My biggest gripe with this book is not that it’s boring, but that it is a mess. There are so many characters that all need to ‘meet’ each other that it often feels hammered in when a character stumbles around in someone else’s chapter. And when a big part of your ensemble consist of uninteresting characters, it becomes tough to slog through those chapters.
Who would you recommend it to?
It’s definitely a Christmas story, so if you love those you might want to give this book a try. Also if you love kid-characters who are way to mature for their age, you are going to eat Madeleine up. Definitely unbelievable, but she’s one of the most fun characters to follow nonetheless. The book seems to be meant as a character study, creating small vignettes of the Philadelphia population, so it might also be interesting for people who like to read small human stories.
Why should I read it if it’s boring?!
The book has some strong characters and nice moments, but to me they didn’t outweigh the negatives. I enjoyed the story of Sarina and Ben, walking around the city at night, reminiscing about their high school times. This felt a bit like a Before Sunrise type of story and was highly enjoyable. I already mentioned Madeleine and her story was pretty sad, but I kept on feeling that it could have been heartbreaking if she wasn’t such an unbelievable character. She’s a Salinger child times a hundred, knowing old jazz classics, singing with a hand on her hip and taking sexy drags of her cigarette. It’s all just too much. The other chunk of the book consists of Lorca, the jazz club owner and his troubled son and that part I just couldn’t care about at all. And don’t even get me started on the out-of-nowhere magical realism ending that Bertino throws in. I literally had to go back and read again what she made happen and it still doesn’t make any sense. That said, the book is an easy read with a fluffy story that can’t really rub you the wrong way. I liked how Bertino structures the story, using time as her chapter headings, moving backwards and forwards throughout the day. 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is a good idea, but unfortunately fleshed out into a dull novel.