Reading guide for Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

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Tuesday Nights in 1980

by Molly Prentiss

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss X
Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 336 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Discuss the 1980 "Portrait of Manhattan" offered here. How does New York City act as its own of character throughout the novel? How does it change and grow? How would you describe a portrait of your own home, in 2015?
  2. James' first journalism teacher claims that there is "influence in oddity." How do we find ways to absorb difference into our identity? Discuss James complex relationship to his synesthesia.
  3. Like James, we all have a "Running List of Worries." What do think would be on Lucy or Raul's list? Marge or Arlene? Why do you think it is so much easier to internalize our regret over our accomplishments?
  4. There is a perverse comfort afforded to those who share tragedy, like Franca's resistance group or John Lennon's mourners, that is inaccessible to those who suffer in solitude, like Raul. Where and how do you think Raul finally finds a similar kind of recognition?
  5. Discuss James' relationship to art commercialization as it swarms up around him. Why does his black and white stance on separating art from currency fade to gray?
  6. For these characters, there is often a wide gap between perception and reality. Do you think Manhattan culture perpetuates this gap? Why or why not?
  7. When Raul paints Franca, she asks him not to paint the "bad parts," but Raul becomes fixated on the flaws that surround him. Discuss how these fragments can make up a beautiful whole, or even act as a whole themselves. How does this these resonate throughout the novel?
  8. Discuss the role of fate and timing in the story, especially as it relates to Winona's New Year's Eve party. How much agency do these characters really have?
  9. Raul's father plays him a scratched record of "Blackbird" by the Beatles before professing that "the scratches are what make a life." Do you agree? Why do you think the author chose "Blackbird" for this moment?
  10. When she moves to New York, Lucy wants a life of momentum, change, and propulsion. Do you think she feels the same at the end? Do you agree with Raul that she doesn't yet know how to "need herself"? What does that mean?
  11. After breaking up with Lucy, Raul realizes that "memories of sweet times now felt sour." In the novel, how does memory shift to reflect shame and regret, and how does that extend to Raul and Franca's siblinghood? James and Marge's marriage?
  12. James insists that every work of art must be a journey, filled with associative power, while Raul wonders if it is possible to begin with a complete idea already in hand. What do you think, and why?
  13. Discuss the symbolism of James' white suit. What does the black stain mean?
  14. Lucy often compartmentalizes herself, neatly splitting her identity between her girlhood in Idaho and her womanhood in the city. Discuss the inherent disconnect here. In the end, how do these character learn to reconcile each part of themselves?

Tips to Enhance Your Book Club:

  1. James often finds hidden commonalities between his art heroes. Do your favorite writers, artists, or musicians share a similar artistic kinship? Bring an excerpt, photo, or clip of your favorite works to share with the group.
  2. Discuss what you think your town or city was like in 1980. Do you think it has changed for worse or for better?
  3. Find the nearest art gallery and learn more about local artists in your community. You could even walk in James' shoes and hone your critical eye.
  4. Take a fun beginner's art class together and offer each other some constructive criticism, taking care not to be as harsh as Arlene.
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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Gallery/Scout Press. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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