Fabulous Fiction Firsts #470 - All That Jazz
Spectacular debuts, heartbreaking stories and two unforgettable young heroines to cheer for.
Last Night at the Blue Angel * * * by Rebecca Rotert. 10 yr. old Sophia takes up her usual spot behind the curtain as she watches her mother Naomi Hill performs for the last time at Chicago's Blue Angel Jazz Club. After a decade at the past-its-prime night spot, Naomi is finally about to catch her big break after her photo appears on the cover of Look Magazine. But success has come at enormous personal cost. Beautiful and magnetic, irresistible and dangerous for those around her, Naomi is fiercely ambitious yet extremely self-destructive, and no one knows this better than Sophia, whose fear dictates that she keeps a watchful eye and a running list of practical objects that must be reinvented in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. The one constant in Sophia's life is Jim, the photographer who is hopelessly in love with the mercurial Naomi, and is about to make her famous.
Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s vibrant Chicago jazz scene, and told from the alternating perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, "Last Night at the Blue Angel is an unforgettable tale about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have."
"(A) highly ambitious and stylish literary debut." Singer and songwriter Rotert's musical background informs Naomi's passion for performance, but it is her heartbreaking portrait of Sophia that will stay with us.
Aspiring jazz singer Madeleine Altimari is a jerk (Don't judge me until you've read the book) - smart-mouthed, lice-headed, quick-fisted and a loner by choice. On Christmas Eve Eve, this 9 year old has just been expelled from school and cruel circumstances have denied her one chance to perform at school Mass. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken, drug-addled father, Madeleine doesn't realize that she is about to have the most extraordinary day and night of her life. On the same day, Sarina Greene, Madeleine's 5th grade teacher is having anxiety picking up the pieces after her divorce, and nervously looking forward to a dinner party with her high school chums (and an old crush).
Across town at The Cat's Pajamas, unless he could raise $30,000 in a flash, owner Lorca is about to lose his jazz club, and breaks his promise to let his musically talented, teenage (i.e. underage) son play in the house band. "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."
Pushcart Prize and Iowa Short Fiction Award winner "Bertino's characters are spot-on, and her special brand of humor brings each one to life in this fresh and charming tale."
* = starred review
* * * = 3 starred reviews