2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas
by Marie-Helene Bertino
Jackie B’s original book review is found here.
1. What did you think of the story? Did you like it? Love it? Hate it? What made you lean that way?
2. This book was listed as a Best Book of 2014 from NPR, Buzzfeed, Flavorwire and was a Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers pick. Do you agree with these accolades? Do some mean more than others? Why?
3. Did any of the characters speak to you? Did they seem real and believable? Who was your favorite character?
4. Bertino goes on record as saying that Philadelphia is an active character in this novel. Do you agree?
5. As this story opens, Madeleine appears to be a big problem in the neighborhood and at school. Did you find you felt a little hostile to this child for the first chapter or two?
6. What’s the history on Mrs. Santiago and why does she (as others in the community) feel it incumbent upon herself to take care of Madeleine?
7. Why is Pedro a character in this story? Why are the random people our main characters meet on the street, such as the man with the pit bull puppy and the pinwheel seller, provided points of view in passing?
8. Where would Madeleine be without her community of parents? Why don’t some of these people, who seem to feel responsible for her, attempt to reach her father through his grief?
9. There are so many different ways to cherish the memories of people we’ve lost. What do you think of Madeleine’s? Of her father’s? Madeleine’s father is so depressed by the loss of the woman he loved, he cannot function. Do you admire this, or do you feel he is being self-indulgent? Discuss.
10. Why does Sarina feel socially inadequate? She is educated, well-travelled, a professional….does her sense of inadequacy spring from her marriage or is she someone who does not recognize her own worth?
“Don’t mind Louisa,” Vince says.” She’s going through a transitional period. From bartender to question mark.” – p. 56
11. Where do you think Louisa is heading? She’s a minor character, but she loves Lorca and loves his son, too. Do you feel there might be something there to hold them together?
12. There is a recurring statement in the book heard from the perspective of Lousia, Lorca, Sarina, and Ben (at least) stating that you know someone “the way you know in a flight, even with your eyes closed, that a plane is banking.” What does this say about the truths we know of others, and the truths we are willing to share with each other?
13. Bertino’s writing and use of language is likened to jazz music itself in some contexts. It has been said “the rhythm of her words is downright musical, as smooth as listening to John Coltrane.” Do you agree?
14. How did you feel when you finished the novel? Were you satisfied? Surprised? Disappointed? Did you feel like there were two endings? Did one speak to you more than another?
15. What do you think the message of this book ultimately is?
16. Where would you classify this story vis a vis genre: Magical realism? Surrealism? Gritty Realist? Humor?
17. What did you think of the format of this story? Did you enjoy the separations by time of day? Was it easy to follow? Would you read a story in this format again?
18. What did you think of the playlist for this book (for this is really a story of love and music)? Are you a jazz fan?
- Blossom’s Blues – Blossom Dearie
- Brown Eyed Handsome Man – Nina Simone
- Night Life – Mary Lou Williams
- I’m Hip – Blossom Dearie
- Three Cool Cats – The Coasters
- I’ll Never Be The Same – Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli
- Meandering – Charlie Parker
- Song for My Father – Horace Silver
- Hope She’ll Be Happier – Bill Withers
- O Christmas Tree – Oscar Peterson
- Candela – Buena Vista Social Club
- The More I See You – Ella Fitzgerald
- You Came A Long Way From St. Louis – Bing Crosby/Peggy Lee
- How Long, Long Blues – Joe Turner
- Troublant Bolero – Django Reinhardt
- Everything I’ve Got – Blossom Dearie
- Won’t Be Long – Aretha Franklin
- Where or When – Julie London
- It’s A Pity To Say Goodnight – Ella Fitzgerald and the Delta Rhythm Boys
19. Do you wish Bertino had included an appendix with all of the mom’s life recipes? What other life recipes do you imagine are in that box?
20. Are you interested in reading Bertino’s short story collection, Safe as Houses? This collection is about how not all homes are shelters and won the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award.