Book Review: 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
Official FC Rating:
*Spoiler alert: I don't reveal what happens at the climax of the book, but I do talk about the occasional plot point. I wouldn't really consider them spoilers, but just a heads up in case you like to jump into a book without knowing any of the plot beforehand.
I won't lie, I didn't have high hopes for this book. I don't really know why. Maybe it was the corny title, or maybe it just seemed a little too cutesy for me based on the synopsis.
I was mostly wrong.
This book was good. I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. We're given a few different story lines that continuously intersect (or at least run parallel to one another) and get to follow along as our three main characters deal with life, hopes, and dreams. There's Madeleine, a "sassy" little kid with a hard life who really just wants to sing. We've got her teacher, Sarina, who is recently divorced. And then there's Lorca, owner of The Cat's Pajamas, a dying jazz club. Their stories are, for the most part, separate. They just occasionally intersect. The three will, at 2 A.M. on Christmas Eve, find themselves at The Cat's Pajamas.
The stories were alright. Madeleine's was sad. She's described as sassy but mostly she's just rude. For readers, she's easy to empathize with but hard to particularly like (for me, anyway). She's not a bad character, just... I thought the surrounding characters were better and infinitely more exciting. But yes. Her backstory is a sad one. Her mother is dead and her father, well, let's call him ill. She's on her own, being primarily taken care of by friends of her mother. She is a talented singer, but due to her ornery attitude and her principal's dislike of her, she can't often share her talent. When she finds out about the historic Cat's Pajamas, she knows she must go there to sing.
Lorca is the owner of the club. He's an alright guy, but not attentive enough to his relationships, whether it's with his son or his girlfriend. He spends most of his time with his music friends. He avoids responsibility outside of music and the club. But the club is dying. On top of that, he gets citations and must pay thousands of dollars in fines to keep the Cat's Pajamas open. Much of his story focuses on this particular struggle and his efforts to raise the money. But we also get a look at his personal story and his flailing relationship with his son.
Then there's Sarina, to me the most likable of the three main characters. She's divorced, she's very kind and empathetic. She's a bit unsure of herself, something she should probably work on. But overall she's an intriguing and amusing character, and her story is the funnest to read. She walks the city with an old fling, not sure if things can go anywhere. She, of course, will end up going to a club with said fling.
I liked the book because it was touching at times. The stories were interesting, if not completely enthralling. Some of the characters were lovely. (I especially liked the minor characters.) Bertino did a great job with pacing. The book was written in such a way that I was never bored and I always was hoping to find out what happens next. At some point, I became invested in the stories, even though they weren't life and death scenarios. It was a sweet and charming book.
There are a few reasons I gave it four stars instead of five. First, the writing was a little too flowery at times. I love metaphor an imagery and every other literary tool and technique, but I do think it can be overdone. It got better as the book went on, but in the beginning, I thought the writing was too pretty, it was taking away from developing the story. Secondly, I didn't feel particularly strongly about most of the characters. They were far from lackluster, but they weren't exceptional, either. Lastly, do you remember in school how we were all taught the different parts of a story? Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution/conclusion. The first two parts were done wonderfully. The climax wasn't incredibly surprising or exciting, but it was good. But the last two parts - the falling action and resolution, they were just okay.
Overall, I sort of recommend the book. It's a good story and a fun and quick read. I enjoyed it a lot. But you're not going to die if you don't read it. If you're looking for a light, charming book, absolutely pick it up. If you're looking for the stuff of giants, though, you can skip it without worry.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.