Sunday, January 2, 2022

That's Unbelievable: Reviewlettes

I wrapped 2021 up on a decidedly mediocre note, consigning one book to my DNF pile for being too unbelievable and following it up with three only slightly less unbelievable stories.

2 a.m. at the Cat's Pajamas, is the story of 9-year-old Madeline Altimari, her teacher Sarina, and, Francis Lorca, owner of a failing jazz club.  Madeline is a prickly, old-for-her-age kid who is mourning her recently passed mother and dreams only of singing jazz.  Sarina is trying to rekindle something with an old flame, and Lorca is just trying to save his club from police scrutiny when the three come together in an unlikely moment on Christmas Eve Eve.  This is kind of a bizarre story of found family, but Bertino's writing is an attractive mix of magical realism and poetic prose.  While her characters may not have quite come to life for me, the Philadelphia setting really did.  Ultimately, Cat's Pajamas serves as a heartfelt love note to a city that doesn't often find itself so well-captured in print.

In Let It Snow, YA heavyweight authors John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle come together with a trio of linked novellas.  The first features Jubilee "not a stripper, despite the name" Dougal, whose parents end up in jail on Christmas Eve.  Bound for her grandparents' house in Florida during a massive snowstorm, her train gets stranded, which ends in a bizarre Waffle House encounter and ultimately being way too trusting of strangers.  Meanwhile, friends Tobin, J.P. and The Duke (AKA Angie) mount a snowy expedition to the very same Waffle House, now populated by their friend Don-Keun and a gaggle of stranded cheerleaders, but the cheerleaders are not the stars of this story.  Finally, we have uber self-centered Addie whose infidelity (and also super self-centeredness!) has her heartbrokenly mourning the loss of her boyfriend, Jeb.  But maybe's he's not lost forever, maybe he's just stranded at (wait for it...) the Waffle House!

This trio of romances starts off promising with Johnson's offering which is quirkily amusing.  Green's effort is a bit of a skid with the "race to the Waffle House with Twister" plot line which reads a little like the bad fan fiction your cousin once wrote in high school but for the romance that does end up sweetening the story a bit.  Myracle's contribution is just perplexing.  Addie is a pretty whiny, unlovable character who undergoes a transformation, but one that makes no sense at all.  Turns out you have to want a happy ending for a character for the happy ending to be satisfying.  I probably should have given this one a pass.

Last but not least, Clock Dance by Anne Tyler is the story of Willa McIntyre who abandons her life in Arizona with her second husband, Peter, to care for the child of her son's ex when said ex is recovering from a gunshot wound.  Tyler's writing is well-done and her plot well-executed.  I really enjoyed the setup of the book as we get to know the forces that have shaped Willa into the accommodating, "needs to be needed" adult that she became.  She brings a working-class Baltimore neighborhood to life, including opinionated Denise (the ex/GSW victim) and her practical daughter, Cheryl, quite well.  Tyler tells a good story about a woman on the edge of a transformation, but I had trouble getting past the very incident that brought them all together in the first place.  Flying cross-country to care for a grandchild in an emergency is one thing, abandoning your life and flying cross-country to babysit the daughter of a stranger is a little too much of a reach for my suspension of disbelief.