2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas

January 26, 2016
2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas Book Cover 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas
Marie-Helene Bertino
August 5th, 2014
272 (7 hours, 14 minutes)

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, precocious nine-year-old and an aspiring jazz singer. As she mourns the recent death of her mother, she doesn’t realize that on 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.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 Am At The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

(via Goodreads)


Philly Skyline2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is unlike any book I’ve read before. This woven narrative explores the relationships, dreams, and desires of many characters as they experience the 24 hours of Christmas Eve-Eve. And, as you can imagine, all these moments culminate together into 2am at the 2nd greatest jazz club in Philadelphia, The Cat’s Pajamas. It’s a hard book to put a solid finger on– genre and character focus seems to change with every page turn.

If there were a race among artists to the human heart, my money would be on music to win. It knows a shortcut.

There are more or less three main characters:

  • Jack Lorca, owner of The Cat’s Pajamas
  • Madeleine Altimari, precocious 9-year-old who wants to sing at a club and recently lost her mother
  • Sarina Greene, a meek divorcee reunited with her ex-boyfriend

Over one jam-packed day we see all three of their lives completely get turned around. The format of this book is semi-diary in nature. Each “chapter” begins with a different time of day, all moments slowly inching forward in time, and slowing helping each character see their world differently. But these three characters are not the only ones we intersect. We meet Alex, Lorca’s troubled son. We meet Mrs. Santiago, the local cafe owner who is one of a large network of people that care for Madeleine. We meet Pedro, Mrs. Santiago’s wanderlust obsessed dog. The list goes on. Some of these characters we meet once and never hear from again. Some return in a semi-recurring basis.

That’s a drummer’s love story. If you want a prettier one, you’ll be waiting forever. If you could separate your body into four distinct rhythms, you’d be cracked too.

All in all, this book felt a bit unfocused to me. We jumped to new characters in the blink of an eye. New perspectives and timelines were introduced with little explanation. Bertino is on record saying that there are a ton of different characters because she wanted Philly to be a character. I get that, in retrospect, but it did not come across in the moment. The language Bertino used was sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, and always mimicking the flightish feel of music. It was easy to get lost in the rhythm of the words, but sometimes, it was hard to understand why we were reading what we were reading. Was this important or a throwaway moment? Lastly, the magical realism didn’t make any sense to me until I remembered this one line:

When Madeleine sang, everyone got what they wanted.

This one line completely changes the ending of the book from something I was confused about to something I appreciated. But this goes back to my constant wonder if the words I was reading were relevant to the story. Most didn’t seem to perpetuate the plot. That said, the ending did make me really happy in retrospect. This is just a really changing book to talk about.

Please, if you read this book, let me know what you think. This book is quite an enigma to write about.

VACBI read this book as a pick for the Verona Area Concert Band (VACB) book club. This is a book discussion group which reads a novel similar to the theme of the upcoming concert. Concerts are quarterly therefore book club discussion also is. For the Q1 concert, the VACB is performing a “blue” themed concert. This includes pieces like Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin and Blue Rondo al la Turk by Dave Brubeck. Since 2am at The Cat’s Pajamas is about music, specifically jazz/blues, we bought right into it.

This is a great book for a book club. There are so many strange little moments and great characters. I had a ton of fun putting together the discussion question list. Bertino also created a Spotify playlist to go along with these book. The playlist provides context for the music played at The Cats Pajamas, as well as the specific songs Madeleine is singing throughout the book.

We had lots of great discussion and I left high as a kite. Leading passionate discussion around books makes me super happy. In lieu of this, I will start posting my discussion questions elsewhere on the blog. I hope that this will inspire others to read these books, either alone or in groups, and breed further bookish conversation.

3 stars

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