REVIEW: TUESDAY NIGHTS IN 1980, BY MOLLY PRENTISS

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The Manhattan art scene at the beginning of a new decade, the 1980s, is the premise of Tuesday Nights in 1980. We meet the main characters at different points in their lives, finally zeroing in on them as they navigate the new decade and struggle to express their art.

We are first introduced to Raul Engales, who has emigrated from Argentina, and then catch a glimpse of James Bennett and his wife Marge, as they join in with others for a New Year’s celebration at an art aficionado’s loft.

We see what each of their lives were like before, via flashbacks, and then we come to understand their particular gifts, which are unique. James’s synesthesia expresses itself via color, which is how he experiences his world, and how he interprets art through his column in the New York Times. Raul’s expression takes another form, but which surprisingly catches the attention of some gallery owners.

Enter Lucy Marie Olliason, who arrived a few months earlier from Ketchum, Idaho, and we see how her journey to Manhattan has been a fervent desire for years. I especially enjoyed watching her put her new life together…and then saw how she met up with Raul.

But things change, and just when everyone seemed firmly set on his or her path, a tragedy changes everything. How they each react to and inform their lives afterwards formulates the rest of their story.

While I enjoyed some of the stories and vignettes that gave us a peek into this unique world, the story plodded along for me, and I lost interest halfway through. I liked Lucy the most, and occasionally, James. Raul was a character with whom I did not connect, despite several instances that might ordinarily elicit my interest.

For me, this book earned three stars.

REVIEW: DUPLICATE KEYS, BY JANE SMILEY

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The spacious Manhattan apartment was like a central meeting place for the group of friends who had all moved to the city around the same time. Within their group were members of a band called Deep Six. The three actual residents of the apartment were Denny Minehart, Craig Shellady, and Susan Gabriel. Others who came and went freely were Noah and Rya Mash and Ray Reschley.

On a morning in May, another friend, Alice Ellis, had stopped by to water the plants, as Susan had gone out of town to the Adirondacks for a mini-vacation. But when Alice entered the apartment, she was stunned to find Denny and Craig dead…murdered, apparently.

Duplicate Keys was a story set sometime in the 1980s, and the interesting aspect of it was how relaxed and even careless were the friends in this drama, apparently lending out keys to anyone and everyone. There had been discoveries of complete strangers to the core group having a copy of the keys.

Alice was an interesting character, the primary narrator of the story. Divorced, she still wondered constantly what had gone wrong in the marriage. She considered Susan to be her best friend, but throughout the novel, Susan seemed to be cold, aloof, and even condescending with Alice, apparently seeing their friendship in an entirely different way.

Detective Honey was the police detective, and his way of trying to solve the case seemed strange to those whose lives were most affected. Did he know more than he was letting on? Did he have any suspects? And why did he keep suggesting to Alice that she change her locks? She hadn’t lived in the apartment with all the duplicate keys.

It didn’t take long for me to decide on the most likely culprit, and at some point, Alice arrived at the same conclusion. With the detective’s help, she was able to assist in bringing about the conclusion to the case in a fascinating manner.

The characters were like leftovers from the hippie era trying to be laidback and living the artistic dream, but their behavior definitely put them in jeopardy. And Alice’s tendency to overthink things, while still arriving at erroneous conclusions, was a somewhat endearing quality, but also a little bit annoying. A well-written book that had me turning pages until the end. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: ALL THE HOUSES, BY KAREN OLSSON

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How does one come home again, after launching an adult life, albeit one that is somewhat floundering? Helen Atherton is trying to find out how to do just that, and how to reconnect with her father, Tim Atherton, whose connection to the Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980s lent a certain intrigue to his life back then.

Her father’s heart condition gives Helen the perfect excuse to change course, and try to write something meaningful about her father’s life and his work.

Helen is the middle sister, sandwiched between her “perfect” older sister Courtney and the younger, somewhat elusive sister Maggie. When Helen comes back to Washington, D.C., she sees that the ties between the siblings are unraveling. She doesn’t understand either of her sisters, and they don’t seem to understand her.

All the Houses was somewhat disjointed, going back and forth between the past and the present, and in both cases, we see Helen floundering. Her recollections of parties her parents threw in her childhood seemed to be her way of trying to understand how her father had made the choices he did, and why he is so detached from life now. His former colleagues and friends seem to have slipped away, and he lashes out. Was everything in his career defined by the mistakes he made?

I didn’t care that much about the characters, although my favorite parts were watching Helen in the present, trying to forge a new life. Her memories of the past seemed like selective memories, as she tried to find meaning and hope in the events that defined her father and his career. 3.5 stars.