Last Night at the Blue Angel alternately follows Sophia, the precocious ten year old daughter of a Chicago jazz singer, Naomi, in the mid-1960s, and Naomi herself, ten years before as she makes her way from Kansas to the city. The relationship between Sophia and Naomi is complex and believable, as are the relationships between them and their circle of friends. In Naomi's chapters, we learn the histories that she has with the men and women around her. In some ways their household is unstable; Sophia is used to men and women spending the night in her mother's room and asks only why their friend Jim, when he stays, sleeps in the living room. But as the story unfolds in both decades, it becomes clearer and clearer that Naomi and Sophia are surrounded by a family of choice. Sophia is an odd but thoroughly believable child; her preoccupation with the aftermath of a nuclear war comes across in childlike ways like her list of random things it occurs to her that she might need to reinvent. Naomi comes across as a force that's too big for the space that currently holds her. She's far from perfect, but at times her strength is admirable, and she always remains sympathetic.
Last Night at the Blue Angel will be available July 1.