Published by Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date: April 5th 2016
Genres: Debut, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Pop culture
When art dealer Winona George throws a fabulous party on New Year’s Eve 1979 to welcome in the 1980s there’s no way of knowing who and what will converge in her art filled apartment in downtown Manhattan. That James Bennett and his wife Marge arrive late is not too surprising—James is an eccentric art critic. As the esoteric bunch of artists and wealthy NYC bohemians mingle, James catches sight of a man he knows he must talk to, but cannot find him later. The man is twenty-nine-year-old Raul Engales, an Argentinian who left his country and his sister Franca behind when a military dictatorship took over the country. Raul has been living a cobbled together life in Manhattan, sure of only one thing—his talent for painting. He attends the party with a raucous group of young artists for the free drinks and food, never knowing that by the time they’ve left in the new hours of 1980, they’ve already been agents of change. This is just one of the small, seemingly inconsequential events that occur in the opening chapter of Tuesday Nights in 1980 a glorious debut novel by Molly Prentiss.
To say that James is eccentric is kind. He’s unnervingly odd. He has a gift, a gift that was considered an affliction when he was young. Synesthesia—a brain in which a word is transformed into a color, where an image was manufactured into a bodily sensation—which means that his experience of the world is such that none of his senses react the way they are supposed to. It’s a burden until he looks at art and sees it in a way no one else can, as sounds, tastes and feelings. Suddenly,
What had once been his handicap was now what allowed him to communicate with art in the way he did, to see things in a way that others couldn’t, to choose the right paintings for his house and to write about them in a way no one else could.
His reviews are so sought after that even when they’re negative their insightful is such that artists appreciate it and often give him gift him with pieces of their work. While James’ reputation grows, Raul lives in an abandoned building and scams his way into using the student art studios at NYU. Prentiss plunders New York City at the dawn of the 1980s for its electrifying abundance of creativity and moves him through and around the burgeoning art scene with other young dynamics like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. She counterbalances their lawless and frenetic energy with the placidity of James and Marge in their traditional marriage where a New Year’s Eve party is a big night out. James and Raul have nothing in common but their passion for art, until both are hit with accidents that rob them of their abilities. Later, before he’s even met Raul, it is a painting of his that heals him but leads both further into tragedy.
After all, the man responsible for the show was the man responsible for the painting that now leaned so beautifully on his mantel and on his heart. The painting that had entered his consciousness and his spirit and was now sitting inside of him somewhere, like an extra rib.
The art world may be the center of Tuesday Nights in 1980 but Prentiss’ skills go far beyond a single focus. Instead, she complements Raul and James with Franca, left behind in Buenos Aires at a time when thinking is dangerous; Marge, whose mundane job allows James his dreams, and Lucy, a bartender from Idaho who becomes Raul’s muse. Through these women Tuesday Nights expands beyond art into the larger themes of politics, family, marriage, compromise. Instead of paint Prentiss’ words are the medium that bring the grime and glitter of 1980 NYC to brilliant life. Even if Studio 54 was on its way out Tuesday Nights in 1980 is a breathless disco of a novel with inventive moves and dazzling style. The novel is filled from top to bottom, inside and out, with a roaring energy of color that reads like champagne, cold and fizzy, leaving the reader dizzy…and delighted.
That you haven’t lost everything. That nothing is everything. That without things there are still more things…There are still things to be done, things to save.