I first came across mention of ‘Tuesday Nights in 1980’ on good old Instagram, where a thriving bookish community shares images and thoughts about books under hashtags such as #bookstagram and #instabooks. Curiosity piqued (as you should be if you like to hear of new titles to read), I searched for a copy and decided it was the sort of intriguing title that I would surely enjoy. However, I don’t seem to be seeing it and hearing about it widely, on either social media or in bookshops-online or real life. Hopefully this is not going to be a ‘quiet’title, as it really is deserving of a read- it certainly does not seem to be pulling the attention of other recent/ upcoming releases such as Jessie Burton’s ‘The Muse’ or even ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven’ by Chris Cleave. I hope to readdress this by sharing my love for this clever story and sharing my views with you all (in the hope it will encourage some of you to read it).
Within the pages of ‘Tuesday Nights in 1980’, Molly Prentiss has achieved something quite extraordinary. Not only does she vividly paint the lives of her central protagonists and their supporting characters in some kind of glorious technicolour (largely in thanks to the merging senses of James the synasthesic Art- Critic) but she also somehow manages to cleverly structure this novel as some great homage to art, by relating it to art theorems and approaches at every stage. While I accept that enjoyment of this novel, will as ever be about the viewpoint from which you read it from (which is of course informed by who you are and the experiences you bring to the text) I am certain that at the very least you will enjoy the very different points of views and very differing characters she highlights, as she deliver and converges their very human stories. I was certainly left pondering the relationship between life and art- how they inform and reflect one another (which is certainly part of the overall message this story delivers).
Perspective aside, this is also a story full of heart. It is full of mistakes and some very human imperfections. As a reader, you cannot help but be reminded that the best of art draws from the raw feelings that arise from painful experience. Here we get a close ups of how art is created or realised, how it is inspired and how it is appreciated: they are not exclusive concepts and they do overlap (just like the lives of the characters that represent these ideas). We are painfully reminded that while the art we may enjoy remains largely static, the lives that surround them are constantly evolving for better or worse . I think it was this that resonated the most with me- we bring our experiences thus far to what we can see, hear, sense and feel. Art can elevate and inspire- it can lift desolation and despondency, but yet still that life is also art in motion.
While all of this clever structural interplay could be irritating and cliched (framing the story with the story of Raul’s sister- ultimate creator as mother at one end and the other containing the unifying and healing power of her son being one clear example) somehow all of the elements draw together and this approach acts like a giant canvas on which all of their stories combine to create a work of beauty. Prentiss really understand human motivations and carefully considers how certain characters are motivated and respond. She sensitively explores how people hurt themselves and those they care for, allowing us to appreciate characters that are flawed and imperfect, without completely despising them. Ultimately redemptive, you hope that their attempts to learn from their mistakes and to try and adapt/ make changes to difficult circumstances (even if they arise from their inability to see clearly) are successful.
Throughout all of this, the New York art scene arises like a beautiful sunset. It becomes a character all of its own: somewhere you wish you could occupy and certainly somewhere you enjoy escaping to thanks to the energy expressed through the pages of this book. Love and pain entwine with creativity and expression. Truth remains everything, even at great cost (and with the explicit reminder that the value of art remains not what it costs but what it offers). The overriding feeling left, once the book ends is that there is always hope and this is what all great art should offer us. In these terms this story is a great success, I just hope it reaches as many people as possible. It deserves to be noisy!