“An intoxicating Manhattan fairy tale…As affecting as it is absorbing. A thrilling debut.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A vital, sensuous, edgy, and suspenseful tale of longing, rage, fear, compulsion, and love.” —Booklist (starred review)
A transcendent debut novel that follows a critic, an artist, and a desirous, determined young woman as they find their way—and ultimately collide—amid the ever-evolving New York City art scene of the 1980s.
Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the eighties: a gritty, not-yet-gentrified playground for artists and writers looking to make it in the big city. Among them: James Bennett, a synesthetic art critic for the New York Times whose unlikely condition enables him to describe art in profound, magical ways, and Raul Engales, an exiled Argentinian painter running from his past and the Dirty War that has enveloped his country. As the two men ascend in the downtown arts scene, dual tragedies strike, and each is faced with a loss that acutely affects his relationship to life and to art. It is not until they are inadvertently brought together by Lucy Olliason—a small town beauty and Raul’s muse—and a young orphan boy sent mysteriously from Buenos Aires, that James and Raul are able to rediscover some semblance of what they’ve lost.
As inventive as Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad and as sweeping as Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, Tuesday Nights in 1980 boldly renders a complex moment when the meaning and nature of art is being all but upended, and New York City as a whole is reinventing itself. In risk-taking prose that is as powerful as it is playful, Molly Prentiss deftly explores the need for beauty, community, creation, and love in an ever-changing urban landscape.
First-time novelist Prentiss vividly conjures a colorful love triangle set in the gritty, art-soaked world of downtown New York in 1980. Raul Engales is a painter throwing himself into the scene as a means to escape his past in Argentina, where war has cast everything into shadow. James Bennett is an up-and-coming art critic with an overwhelming gift: synesthesia: "an image was manufactured into a bodily sensation... applesauce tasted like sadness and winter was the color blue." The fulcrum is Lucy Olliason, a naive beauty from Idaho, drawn to New York by a postcard of the skyline she found on the side of the road. Prentiss shines when showing us James's powers of perception. Impressive, too, is her ability to create an atmosphere that crackles with possibility as well as foreboding. She sprinkles verisimilitude throughout the SoHo scene Laurie Anderson sings at a party at Raul's squat; Lucy spies Keith Haring tagging a subway station; news of "Jean-Michel" and his neologistic SAMO tags are everywhere and nowhere, a spectral presence imprinting on Raul's psyche. Structured over a year beset by tragedy, the story belongs to the two great men, artist and critic; Lucy's beauty is her most distinguishing characteristic. One yearns for more time spent on the women artists who are minor characters, James's magnanimous wife, Marge, and Lucy's sometime roommate. Nevertheless, this is a bold and auspicious debut.
Tuesday Nights in 1980
Molly Prentiss had me from Hello. Took only a few pages to hook me. Loved the characters and how their individual stories entwined like a wild vine. Left me wanting more - which is the best thing you can say for any story. Looking forward to her next project!
Seemed like the character's lively and vivid personalities just faded away towards the end.