Brought to you by OBS reviewer JoAnne
It is the early 1960’s, and Chicago is teeming with the tensions of the day – segregation, sexual experimentation, the Cold War, and Vietnam-but it is also home to some of the country’s most influential jazz. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. But when her big break, the cover of Look magazine, finally arrives, it carries with it an enormous personal cost. Sensual and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet self-destructive woman whose charms tend to hurt those around her, and no one knows this better than her daughter, Sophia.
As the only child of a single mother growing up in an adult world, Sophia is wise beyond her years, a casualty of her mother’s desperate struggle for fame and adoration. Unsettled by her home life, she harbors a terrible fear that her world could disappear at any moment, and compulsively maintains a list of everyday objects she might need to reinvent should nuclear catastrophe strike. Her only constant is the colorful and unconventional family that surrounds her and her mother, particularly the photographer, Jim, who is Sophia’s best friend, surrogate father, and protector-but Jim is also deeply in love with Naomi.
Weaving between the perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, Last Night at the Blue Angel is a poignant and unforgettable story about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have. Part stylish period piece, part heartbreaking family drama, it’s a novel rife with revelations, a vivid and propulsive page-turner-and the major debut of an extraordinary new writer.
According to the information above, the book was supposed to be about the tensions surrounding the 60’s, a woman with a great passion for life and her child, and her need for adoration. Well, one out of three I guess.
I was intrigued by the title and the blurb, and literally slogged through the book. Although it takes place in the 60’s, there is so little mentioned about the current events of the time that you would think nothing was happening. I can’t recall anything being said about Vietnam nor the Cold War. There was a mention of President Kennedy‘s assassination and because of that, Sophia thought there might be nuclear war (?). What I found in Naomi was a woman who was so indulgent in what she wanted out of life that she expected everyone around her to just go along with it.
Sophia is ten years old, yet Naomi thinks nothing at all of bringing lovers into her apartment whenever she feels like it, not even trying to hide the fact from her daughter. Not even when they are still there in the morning – male and female alike. Yet she is a good mother, right? Her “sexual experimentation” began in the 50’s, and – get this – a lesbian nun helped her – how should I put this? – ‘find herself’ while she had a tryst with another teenager (Laura) who decided she wanted Naomi. So, Laura wanted Naomi, not even thinking of the consequences or the fact that maybe Naomi might be the one to suffer, her not being rich like Laura…as a result, Naomi does whatever she wants, and Sophia just goes along with it, because she’s ten, thinks her mother is this amazing singer, and hasn’t figured out yet that her mom’s more concerned with her career than she is with her daughter.
I wish I could say this book was wonderful, that it had a redeeming message, and/or that it was a page-turner. But it was not. The dialogue was in italics, not parentheses, so it appeared that everyone was thinking instead of speaking, and as such, it read as if everyone was just sleepwalking through the book. Not one character was interesting: not Jim, who was pining for Naomi while she just used him, not Sister Eye, not Sophia, not Naomi. Even when there was a tragedy, and Naomi discovered what was important in life, I didn’t care.
It was slow, boring, and the blurb was misleading. While I expected it to be a book with statements/events relating to the occurrences of the 60’s, all I found was a book regarding a woman who slept around and hurt people while trying to get famous.