In many ways, “Tuesday Nights in 1980″ is a love letter to Manhattan at the dawn of an adventurous decade. The city is dirty and grimy; there’s no pristine Times Square or gentrified Greenwich Village, but there is a vibrant art scene in full swing, helmed by folks like Andy Warhol.
By setting her debut novel in this era, Prentiss has the luxury of utilizing the brash inventiveness of New York’s art world as character itself. The scene is not pretty; it’s a gossipy, creative and cutthroat world that devours the weak. It is against this backdrop that she introduces three characters—an art critic, a painter from Argentina who has come to America to escape his past and a small town girl making her way in a big new world.
The book is a another breakout work for Prentiss who displays a delicate craftsmanship in her storytelling. As these characters dodge and weave into and around each other’s lives she skillfully builds toward a crescendo that will leave an indelible mark upon their lives and their art.
Another interesting component of her novel is that each of her protagonists is flawed in some way. By using an artist, a critic and a newbie who becomes an artistic muse, Prentiss explores a time when Soho’s art scene was still a subversive movement where creativity was tenaciously born amidst the muck of chaos. This allows each of her creations to face challenges in finding success and acceptance while simultaneously forcing them into develop their own rapport between life and art.
Manhattan itself, in all of sleazy glory, is a character unto itself. Its day-to-day grind can both stifle and stimulate creativity. Its movements in art, music, film and theater are smoldering underground, waiting to burst to the surface by the end of the new decade and reshape the city itself as the artistic capital of the universe.
“Tuesday Nights in 1980″ is a precise and affectionate work of dramatic fiction that explores the dynamism between art and life as it embodies the hopes, dreams and aspiration of artists looking to find their path in the dingy playground of Manhattan’s underground.
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Set against the burgeoning art scene of New York, this is a story about boundless possibilities interrupted by great personal loss. James has synesthesia. His words are alive with color and taste and feeling, making him a gifted and respected art critic. Raul, an orphan from Argentina, refusing to deal with the emotional void opening between himself and his sister, flees to the city he was born in where he discovers his talent. With flowing, rhythmic prose, Prentiss tells a very real and moving story. Simply brilliant! - randy
“A synesthetic art critic rises to prominence by capturing the je ne sais quoi of great new paintings in terms of sound, aura, and taste. A young painter escapes war in his native Argentina to bring his unusual portraits to New York. A wide-eyed farm girl leaves home for the gritty promise of the big city, destined to become a muse of the art scene. The web between these characters becomes increasingly tangled as 1980 progresses in all its dark glamour. Prentiss captures raw ambition, startled joy, and aching tragedy equally well to produce a thought-provoking, originally textured novel that both transports and awes.”
— Richael Best (W), The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
“In one sentence, Ms. Prentiss captures a sense of intoxication and possibility that six seasons of voice-overs from Sarah Jessica Parker never could…Ms. Prentiss concludes her novel on a note that’s both ethereal and brutally realistic. She cauterizes wounds, but they’re still visible and bare. But for her characters—for this promising author—it’s enough.” —The New York Times
“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.
About the Author
Molly Prentiss was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California. She was a Writer in Residence at Workspace at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Blue Mountain Center, and the Vermont Studio Center and was chosen as an Emerging Writer Fellow by the Aspen Writers Foundation. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the California College of the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn.
"It isn't easy to write a novel about art, and even harder to write a novel about art this good, with this much energy and verve and sense of adventure -- and Molly Prentiss has done it. 'Tuesday Nights in 1980' is much more than an accomplished first novel; it is a beautifully written story of creation and transformation, set against a backdrop of urban decay and political violence. I loved this book." — Daniel Alarcón, author of At Night We Walk in Circles & Lost City Radio
"For those of us who like our novels soulful and brainy, ambitious and deeply felt, Molly Prentiss has given us a first work of fiction to marvel at and then savor. This is a serious young writer in full command of her craft." — Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me
"Whether her canvas is as broad as the New York City art world in the good old days of glitz and excess, or as small as the quiet, deeply moving connection between brother and sister, Molly Prentiss seems able to render any expression of humanity expertly onto the page. TUESDAY NIGHTS IN 1980 has worlds in it, all wildly appealing, and Molly Prentiss has chops to spare. I can't imagine the soul who won't love this book." — Marie-Helene Bertino, author of 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas
"An agile, imaginative, knowledgeable, and seductive writer, Prentiss combines exquisite sensitivity with unabashed melodrama to create an operatic tale of ambition and delusion, success and loss, mystery and crassness. Prentiss’ insights into this brash art world are sharply particularized and shrewd, but she also tenderly illuminates universal sorrows, “beautiful horrors,” and lush moments of bliss. In all, a vital, sensuous, edgy, and suspenseful tale of longing, rage, fear, compulsion, and love. — Booklist (Starred Review)
"First-time novelist Prentiss vividly conjures a colorful love triangle set in the gritty, art-soaked world of downtown New York in 1980. Impressive, too, is her ability to create an atmosphere that crackles with possibility as well as foreboding...a bold and auspicious debut." — Publishers Weekly
“An intoxicating Manhattan fairy tale… As affecting as it is absorbing. A thrilling debut.” — Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Tuesday Nights in 1980 is a sweepingly large and profound story about art, love and actualization, cleanly and beautifully composed... A poetic novel of ambitiously profound considerations, a large-scale drama in a series of small, perfectly rendered moments." — Shelf Awareness
"We are luckily introduced to three individuals who bravely take the stage, ready to conquer SoHo by storm. Their trek amongst the bright lights is captivating, and readers will be hanging on the edge of their seats." — RT Book Reviews
An April 2016 LibraryReads Pick — LibraryReads
“Tuesday Nights in 1980 is a discerning, passionate and humane work.” — BookPage
"It's 1980 in SoHo, and in this thrilling, vibrant debut, a synesthetic art critic could make or break [an artist named] Raul. And so could a girl named Lucy. Oh, and his own recklessness, too." — Marie Claire magazine
“The gritty New York art scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s pulsed with creative energy, and so does this engaging novel… It portrays an intoxicating world and its raw, ungentrified backdrop—both about to be transformed by greed.” — People Magazine
“Innovative to the max, this debut novel from Molly Prentiss is a book that I've been raving about to everyone I know…Prentiss will leave you breathless as she plays with form and description in astounding new ways.” — Bustle
"[Prentiss'] writing is as vivid and sensitive as the pensées of her synesthetic art-critic protagonist...[her] descriptions of the eighties art world ring true on both the texture of the work and its go-go capitalist corruption." — Vulture
“In one sentence, Ms. Prentiss captures a sense of intoxication and possibility that six seasons of voice-overs from Sarah Jessica Parker never could…. Ms. Prentiss concludes her novel on a note that’s both ethereal and brutally realistic. She cauterizes wounds, but they’re still visible and bare. But for her characters — for this promising author —it’s enough.” — The New York Times
“[Prentiss’s] sensual linguistic flourishes exquisitely evoke the passions we can feel for people and places we’ve known or are discovering…again and again, the temptation is to underline passages…there are riveting plots and subplots… still the book’s magnificence remains in its shadings, descriptive and emotional… toward the end you’ll find yourself turning the pages slowly, sorry to realize you’re almost finished.” — O, The Oprah Magazine
“Prentiss’s first novel is about art: making it, loving it and letting it go. And the book itself is a work of artistry…what stands out is a straightforward and familiar story… but the writing—authentic and frenetic—makes the material feel fresh. I’ve been there, done that, but I held my breath the whole way.” — The New York Times Book Review
"Capturing the zeitgeist of a pivotal time and place, this novel is brash and ambitious, with a dash of magical realism thrown in: think Andy Warhol’s legendary parties when they were still underground. Prentiss has created a remarkable debut." — Library Journal, Starred Review
"[A] sharp rendering of a city in transition...[a] spirited debut." — The Guardian