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Marie-Helene Bertino’s enchanting debut novel, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas

A 2014 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick

Marie-Helene Bertino’s enchanting debut novel, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas

Marie-Helene Bertino
  • Imprint: Crown Publishers
  • On sale: August 5, 2014
  • Price: $25.00
  • Pages: 272
  • ISBN: 9780804140232
Contact: Dyana Messina
(212) 572-2098

“Bertino’s characters are spot-on, and her special brand of humor brings each one to life in this fresh and charming tale.” Booklist

“Madeleine Altimari is in the fifth grade and wants to be a jazz singer.  Sarina Greene is Madeleine’s teacher. . . . These two make for companionable allies, and it’s easy to share in the affection they feel for one another.  It’s to Bertino’s (Safe as Houses) credit that she has invented, sketched, connected, and geographically located such an elaborate cast, and in the process established what does genuinely feel like an old neighborhood at Christmastime.” Publishers Weekly

“[2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas] follows a cast of cute/quirky characters hour by hour as their lives converge two days before Christmas.” Kirkus Reviews

“Clever, charming, and full of life. Like the best jazz, 2 A.M. is a marvel of the unexpected, a buoyant, swinging tale of interwoven destinies that Marie-Helene Bertino tells with verve, wit, and warmth. I loved it.” —Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements

2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas won me over heart and soul. With Madeleine Altimari, a nine-year-old aspiring jazz singer with a wonderful talent for cursing, Bertino has created one of the most winning and wonderful characters I’ve met in a long time. Read this book to see a debut author doing something really special, crafting a story where human kindness meets up with an inhospitable world and real magic happens in the aftermath.” —Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of The Family Fang 

“Marie-Helene Bertino bops across Philadelphia like an alleycat on the run, energetic and wild. Her sentences are sharp and surprising, and her wonderful story is full of heart. There is funny poetry in the sound of loneliness, and Bertino has found it.” Emma Straub, author of Other People We Married, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and The Vacationers  

2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is as winning and funny as the nine-year-old at its heart, and I love it for the way its protagonists turn their back on their city’s cruddiness and their own losses to proclaim their happiness to be in this world.  They offer wryness as the antidote to self-pity and benevolence as the antidote to isolation, and they demonstrate how even the most forsaken can turn themselves into a warm, dry house.” —Jim Shepard, author of Like You’d Understand, Anyway
2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas is a recipe box full of wonders. With a wildly entertaining cast of characters, Marie-Helene Bertino soars through her native city of Philadelphia, zeroing in with great beauty, wit, skill, and love on the exact moments in time that change our lives forever.” —Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief

“Once you enter the imagination of Marie-Helene Bertino—a world as weird as it is warm—you will not want to leave. Each sentence is a pop-up box: first delightful for its sweet music, then profound with the shock of truth. This is a dazzling book.” —Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints


Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of the story collection Safe as Houses, which won the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Prize and The Pushcart Prize, and was long-listed for The Story Prize and The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize. An Emerging Writer Fellow at New York’s Center for Fiction, she has spent six years as an editor and writing instructor at One Story.  Her enchanting debut novel, 2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS (Crown; August 5, 2014), is the vivacious and charming story of three unforgettable characters who will see their lives change over the course of one extraordinary day in the city of Philadelphia.

2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS begins on a quiet morning in a Philadelphia apartment the day before Christmas Eve, where we meet the precocious and smart-mouthed nine-year-old Madeleine Altimari.  Madeleine’s mother has recently died, and her father is still lost in his grief.  Madeleine finds solace in music and aspires to become a jazz singer like her late mother, “whose voice could redirect the mood of a room.” Just two days shy of her tenth birthday, she is about to have the most remarkable day of her life.

After facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine decides today is the day to find Philadelphia’s legendary jazz club, The Cat’s Pajamas, and make her debut. On the same day, Madeleine’s fifth-grade teacher, Sarina Greene, who has moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with her high school love. And across town at The Cat’s Pajamas, club owner Jack Lorca discovers that his beloved venue may be closed by the end of the night due to financial woes. As we follow these three lost souls over the course of twenty-four hours, we also meet a cast of eccentric Philadelphians who surround them—from the daffy but well-intentioned coffee shop owner, Mrs. Santiago, to Ben, Sarina’s high school crush, to Melissa, the former “snake lady” exotic dancer who is Lorca’s long-suffering girlfriend and last hope for love, to Pedro, the dog with incurable ennui. With sharp wit and irrepressible spirit, Marie-Helene Bertino turns Philadelphia, her home city, into a magical place where anything can happen.

A sparkling and original novel, 2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS will capture your heart and make you root for Madeleine, Sarina, Lorca, and those whose lives they touch. The novel is a torch song to the beauty and power of music and the seemingly small moments that recalibrate our lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MARIE-HELENE BERTINO’s stories have appeared in The Pushcart Prize Anthology XXXIII, North American Review, Gigantic, Gulf Coast, Mississippi Review, Inkwell, Indiana Review, American Short Fiction, Five Chapters, West Branch, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Storyville, The Common, and Mississippi Review’s Anthology 30. She teaches at NYU, the Center for Fiction, the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and the One Story Workshop for Writers, and has been invited to read and teach at bookstores and universities in America and abroad, including the Brooklyn Book Festival, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Ithaca College’s New Voices Festival, and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival in Cork, Ireland.  She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Hedgebrook. A Philadelphia native, she lives in Brooklyn.

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