Last Night at the Blue Angel: A Novel
by Rebecca Rotert

Published: 2014-07-01
Hardcover : 336 pages
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Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s Chicago jazz scene, a highly ambitious and stylish literary debut that combines the atmosphere and period detail of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility with the emotional depth and drama of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, about a talented but ...

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Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s Chicago jazz scene, a highly ambitious and stylish literary debut that combines the atmosphere and period detail of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility with the emotional depth and drama of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, about a talented but troubled singer, her precocious ten-year-old daughter, and their heartbreaking relationship.

It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is a city of uneasy tensions—segregation, sexual experimentation, free love, the Cold War—but it is also home to one of the country’s most vibrant jazz scenes. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. Finally, her big break arrives—the cover of Look magazine. But success has come at enormous personal cost. Beautiful and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet extremely self-destructive woman whose charms are irresistible and dangerous for those around her. No one knows this better than Sophia, her clever ten-year-old daughter.

For Sophia, Naomi is the center of her universe. As the only child of a single, unconventional mother, growing up in an adult world, Sophia has seen things beyond her years and her understanding. Unsettled by her uncertain home life, she harbors the terrible fear that the world could end at any moment, and compulsively keeps a running list of practical objects she will need to reinvent once nuclear catastrophe strikes. Her one constant is Jim, the photographer who is her best friend, surrogate father, and protector. But Jim is deeply in love with Naomi—a situation that adds to Sophia’s anxiety.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, their powerful and wrenching story unfolds in layers, revealing Sophia’s struggle for her mother’s love with Naomi’s desperate journey to stardom and the colorful cadre of close friends who shaped her along the way.

Sophisticated yet poignant, 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. It is a story ripe with surprising twists and revelations, and an ending that is bound to break your heart.

Editorial Review

Paula McLain
Rebecca Rotert
Paula McLain, author of the New York Times best-selling The Paris Wife, interviews Rebecca Rotert

Paula McLain (PM): From page one, I felt you really knew your story and these fascinating characters inside and out, Rebecca. What hooked you and got you writing this novel?

Rebecca Rotert (RR): Sophiaâ??s voice appeared first and I immediately fell in love with her sensibility, her hyper-vigilance. Her mother, Naomi, demands an enormous amount of attention, and Sophia lives in the shadow of that appetite, like a riverbank constantly being shaped and re-shaped by Naomiâ??s currents. You could also say Iâ??ve been thinking about this theme all my life. I was acutely aware from an early age of my own motherâ??s magnetism. In a way, the brighter she shone, the more private I got to be, and in that privacy my own internal world began â?? the reading, writing, painting, and music.

PM: As troubled, unpredictable and self-involved as Naomi is, I felt I understood her demons and historyâ??what drives her. As her creator, you clearly found sympathy for her too. How?

RR: Itâ??s tempting to see a troubled character as fixed, her actions as calculated. I think this is rarely the case. Once the larger narrative of a life comes into view, even the worst behavior begins to make sense. Itâ??s always a risk to give space to less desirable characters but itâ??s infinitely more interesting.

PM: The descriptions of singing, listening to and performing songs are incredibly well done and feel true to life. Whatâ??s your own relationship to music?

RR: My family sings a LOT. I was classically trained, and sang in school choirs and plays. As a young adult I sang in a few bands and learned to write music, to show up at practice with lyrics and chords on a scrap of paper and have a song by the end of the night. I chose to limit Naomiâ??s artistry to singing other peopleâ??s music as another way for her self-expression to be truncated. If she wrote her own music, if she had that kind of agency, her story would be different, I think.

PM: I loved Jim! Heâ??s the father Sophia would choose if she were able, and is the emotional glue for Naomi too. How can he remain so devoted when sheâ??s put him through the wringer? Did you know from the start what a significant role he would come to play in the novel?

RR: I love Jim, too. He is the good guy, the â??friend,â?? but I wanted to represent this relationship as a sort of performance, too. Itâ??s not until both Jim and Naomi stop performing their designated roles â?? adorer, beloved - that they see each other clearly. I didnâ??t realize how catalytic Jim would become until researching the photographer, Richard Nickel, on whom he is loosely based. Nickelâ??s commitment to a lost cause was beautiful and tragic. Through Jim, I wanted to pay homage, however small and impressionistic, to Nickel.

PM: Sophia is raised by a colorful, unconventional family that somehow works just the same. Can you speak to what inspired Sister Eye, the other nuns, and the fabulous Rita?

RR: These characters were gleaned from my life. I had one particular teacher who treated me with an undeserved and seemingly endless amount of patience and respect, and stood by me through my development as a writer as well as countless personal difficulties. I also believe that nuns are among the smartest, fiercest, most radical women Iâ??ll ever knowâ??and Rita is surely a tribute to all the fearless characters in my life.


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  "Last Night At The Blue Angel"by Elizabeth P. (see profile) 04/28/15

Naomi and Sophia live alone as mother and daughter. Naomi is a singer and got her start i?n her ?Catholic school with Sister Idalia. Sophia loves her mother, sits at the night club whe

... (read more)

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