Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Mothers and daughters can have all sorts of relationships. Some are close and loving while others are distant or estranged. Some mothers raise their children while other children are basically abandoned to raise themselves. And yet no matter what our relationship with our mothers, not knowing any other way of life, we assume our experience is the common one. We crave love, acceptance, attention, and acknowledgement from our mothers. In Rebecca Rotert's novel, Last Night at the Blue Angel, set in 1965 Chicago, Naomi, a single mother, sings in a  rundown nightclub and strives for an ever elusive fame while her innocent but wise ten year old daughter, Sophia, aches for Naomi's attention as she tries to hold her talented but fragile mother together.

The novel opens on the night that Naomi finally becomes famous but the spotlight of the narrative is very quickly and firmly on the precocious Sophia perched on her stool in the wings watching the mother she adores. Sophia worries about life after a nuclear bomb and she keeps lists of the necessary things that she will have to reinvent in the event of such a major disaster. Her world is not perfect but it is her world and she wants nothing more than to preserve it as it is. Since Naomi is too consumed with her career and self-involved to be a particularly attentive mother, Sophia is lucky to be surrounded by an extended family of her and Naomi's own making. Jim, a photographer documenting the ruins of old Chicago architecture before it is forever lost and in love with Naomi, helps Sophia manage her mother and acts as a steadying influence and surrogate father. Sister Eye is a teacher at Sophia's school who has known Naomi since before she left her small Kansas town, driven out by small minded prejudice. And it is with Sister Eye and Rita that Naomi lived while she found her footing, when she discovered she was pregnant with Sophia, and who are as much Sophia's family as if they shared blood.

The novel eventually alternates between Sophia and Naomi's narration with Sophia telling the tale of the immediate past and Naomi filling in the even further past events that led her to flee Kansas. When Naomi tells her tale, it fills the gaps and explains things in Sophia's narrative in some unexpected ways. Even so, Sophia's narration is the stronger, more sympathetic one. Sophia is an appealing character, accepting and winsome, and her fierce love for her mother is poignant while her loyalty and love for the others in her life is overwhelming. Naomi has been battered by life far more than her daughter but some of that battering is a result of her own choices. Most of the relationships are well developed here but there are two incredibly important ones, with David and with Laura, that are underdeveloped and scant despite their significance to the story as a whole. The ending is bittersweet and gives a hint of how Sophia will face growing up to match the maturity she already possesses.

The novel, like I imagine Naomi's voice, is sultry and full of longing for real beauty and for love and family. It is well written, telling a story that is both beautiful and tragic. Tackling prejudice, racism, sexuality, the terrible price of fame, and durability versus vulnerability, this novel is a slow, jazzy paean, heart-wrenching and languid.

For more information about Rebecca Rotert and the book, follow her on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. I don't know that this premise would've grabbed me straight away, but with a review like this, I'm much more interested.

  2. Your last sentence - "Tackling prejudice, racism, sexuality, the terrible price of fame, and durability versus vulnerability, this novel is a slow, jazzy paean, heart-wrenching and languid." - just gorgeous!

    I have this book but haven't read it yet. I'm really looking forward to it now!

  3. This sounds terrific Kristen; it is on my TBR list, but plan to move it up a bit --thanks

  4. Thanks for being a part of the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.


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