Marie-Helene Bertino’s debut novel 2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas will be released on August 5th and it’s special enough that you should send yourself an iCal reminder to go pick it up next Tuesday. I received a free review copy but it’s an ebook so I’m going to sneak away from the conference I’ll be attending on Tuesday and find a bookstore in Seattle where I can buy a physical copy. Because I’m certain this is a book I’ll read again, perhaps on Christmas Eve eve, and one that I’ll loan to other readers who can’t quite put their finger on what they’re looking for in a book.
Bertino’s novel about a set of characters who find themselves at a Philadelphia jazz club at 2:00 a.m. on the eve of Christmas Eve just has something about it.
It has a vibe like it could be a period piece but I’m pretty sure it’s set in the present day. It’s funny but not ha ha funny. It’s sad but you won’t cry. It’s romantic but no one falls in love. It’s about musicians and music but it’s a quiet book. There’s nothing fashionable or cynical about the novel and it’s a testament to Bertino’s character that I didn’t know she lived in Brooklyn until I read her author bio upon completing the book.
While Bertino doesn’t drop organic kale or ironic beard references to tip you off about her geography her use of language might leave you wondering if she was a poet before she was a novelist. There’s a lyricism and particular cadence to her prose and you’ll find yourself silently mouthing the text as you read the book on the subway. I can’t find evidence that Bertino is a poet but it turns out that cadence is no accident. From an interview with the Paris Review:
I took a week and rented a room down on the beach to just sit there with my dog and read it out loud. Everyone should read their work out loud. Everyone.
In a slight modification of Bertino’s instructions, I think everyone should read her work out loud. Fellow subway passengers be damned! You owe it to yourself to listen to the beat of this excellent debut novel.
Kind thanks to Crown Publishing’s Blogging for Books program for the review copy of 2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas.