Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the eighties: a gritty, quickly gentrifying playground for artists and writers looking to make it in the big city. Read more...
Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the eighties: a gritty, quickly gentrifying 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."
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A year inside a creative haven
For folks who were there, the New City York of 1980 was the best of times and the worst of times. The city was a cauldron of energy, creativity and wonderful freakishness. It was the city of Basquiat and Keith Haring’s hit-and-run works of art—and even a place where rents were cheap if you lived in Greenwich Village or Alphabet City. AIDS had not yet ravaged the city like a daikaiju from outer space. It was a place where a girl from Ketchum, Idaho, or an orphan from Argentina could come and dream big, make it big and yes, fail big.
Molly Prentiss’ Tuesday Nights in 1980 follows several linked characters during the year in question. There’s Lucy, the innocent girl from Ketchum and her lover, Engales, the ambitious painter from Argentina, who has escaped that country’s encroaching fascism as well as a quasi-incestuous relationship with his sister. James is an art critic noted for incorporating his synesthesia into his reviews. To him art, people and things are jumbles of vibrant sensations and colors. He is drawn to Lucy because she’s as fluorescent yellow as a squash blossom. Engales, who he meets after the artist suffers a disfiguring accident, fascinates him with his blueness. James’ wife, Marge, is red.
Because James knows all these people with varying degrees of intense intimacy, everything in the book will get very, very complicated. How can it not? It was 1980.
The book is such an accomplished and surefooted work that it’s amazing to learn that it’s a debut. Prentiss’ descriptions of New York and its fractious art scene will make those who were there almost nostalgic, and her deep empathy for her characters, messed up as some of them are, is moving. She pulls off the difficult feat of making dialogue sound like conversations overheard in the next room. Tuesday Nights in 1980 is a discerning, passionate and humane work.