Last Night at the Blue Angel
Naomi Hill has a talent, there’s no denying that. Over the years since she fled her small hometown in her teens, she never wavered in the belief that she would be famous one day. On her unsteady rise, she gathered an odd collection of friends and lovers. Many of them she used up and left in her wake. A few she kept around. But her best and brightest love is Sophia, the daughter she didn’t know if she wanted and sometimes still wonders about.
Naomi’s greatest ambition has always been to become a singer. Now, in 1965, she has been in Chicago for a decade, and has been at the Blue Angel, a jazz club on the decline, for a majority of those years. Sophia, nearly 11, often comes to cheer her on, watching from behind the scenes, as stalwart Jim bustles around photographing Naomi and chronicling her life in pictures for when she does hit the big time. Naomi is just so beautiful, men can’t help but fall in love. But there’s a part of Naomi that doesn’t understand love. Oh, she understands adoration and gratification. But love? The meaning of that abstract concept somewhat eludes her.
"It is hard to believe that LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL is Rebecca Rotert’s debut novel, as it simply shimmers with feeling. Her range of emotional evocation and ability to touch a reader so fiercely with beautiful words makes the book a pure pleasure to read."
Sophia, though, has no trouble with love. For her, there’s no more special person in the whole wide world than her mother. And their good friend Jim holds a special place in Sophia’s heart, too. She wishes he could be her father. If asked, Jim would tell you he wishes that as well. And there are the wonderful supporting characters, such as Sister Eye and Rita, who couldn’t be more loving, caring or colorful. If only Sophia’s mother could reach deep into herself like the others do, wouldn’t their lives be grand?
While Naomi breaks plenty of hearts on her journey to stardom, there’s one who comes along that just might break her heart. Can she survive it if that happens? Can little Sophia? With Mother so self-involved, Sophia has a lot to deal with. She’s wise beyond her years --- out of necessity, considering Naomi’s mercurial moods --- yet has no friends her own age. At least, that is, until Elizabeth shows up at her school. Elizabeth might be an even bigger outcast than Sophia, as the only black student to have tried attending classes there. But in an ironic twist, Elizabeth’s mother finds Sophia’s eccentric family --- kindly put --- to be an influence she does not want her daughter around. The cost of Naomi’s ambition may come with too high a price.
It is hard to believe that LAST NIGHT AT THE BLUE ANGEL is Rebecca Rotert’s debut novel, as it simply shimmers with feeling. Her range of emotional evocation and ability to touch a reader so fiercely with beautiful words makes the book a pure pleasure to read. But beware, it may be full of laughter, yes, but it is also full of anger, foolishness, fear, heartbreak and tears. At the very least, it will leave you gasping.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on July 11, 2014