Review: The Queen of Tuesday

Thank you to Town Crier Book Publicity for sending me an e-galley of Darin Strauss’ latest novel, The Queen of Tuesday. All thoughts are my own – hope you enjoy reading them!

What’s it about?

Award-winning author Darin Strauss’ new novel, The Queen of Tuesday, is based on the life of Lucille Ball, star of the silver screen and Hollywood’s first true female mogul. She acted in and produced widely popular sitcoms including, I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Life with Lucy. 

But this story is far from a simple biography of America’s TV darling. The unconventional (fictional) idea behind this novel is that Strauss’ grandfather, Isidore Strauss, had a passionate, complicated love affair with Lucille Ball. It’s an intriguing, probing, unusual book, totally unlike anything I’ve read before!

My thoughts

I’ve haven’t read many celebrity biographies or (any?) novels about once-world-famous TV stars. And so, I expected The Queen of Tuesday to be full of glamorous scenes at glittering parties and high-drama from start to finish. But, this novel subverted all my expectations. For Lucille Ball super-fans, leave your version of her at the door and allow yourself to be suspended in unreality for a few hundred pages. It seems Lucille’s dazzling charisma is the only element flirting with something resembling the ‘truth’. Strauss is less concerned with ridgid facts and dates, and is far more interested in the legend of Lucille, the concept of ‘celebrity’ and what happens when famous folk collide with mere mortals – such as his own grandfather.

Throughout the novel, the perspective switches between Lucille and her philandering husband Desi, Isidore and his wife Harriet, and Darin Strauss himself. Isidore’s utter fixation with the thought of Lucille is both infuriating and fascinating – he is haunted and enthralled by the memory of one electric moment of passion they shared. His infidelity makes him subsequently dissatisfied with his existing marriage but, regardless, Lucille will always be out of reach. Isidore’s attempts to grapple with his unfulfilled desire – and Strauss’ broader comment on celebrity – made this novel really interesting and unique.

Once, at a Madison Square Garden Knicks game, Isidore had been quite enjoying his seats until a friend who worked there sidled up and offered him a courtside ticket. That was king of what it was like having sex with a famous redhead comedienne. Or maybe better to describe it as like a snowy field that didn’t know it was cold; but then the first rays of warmth came.

Equally intriguing were the chapters about Lucille and Communism. In 1953, she was investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (having listed her party affiliation as Communist in 1936). Given the political climate in America at the time, this news had the power to destroy her acting career. 

When your lease on celebrity is up – when the public turns against you – it’s painful, humbling, inexplicable, and the smirk of the indifferent is lonely in the way of being abandoned by a lover. And they always do turn against you, she thinks.

But the novel’s analysis of fame doesn’t stop there. It’s fairly obvious why someone would want to be famous, but why do the masses worship fame? Strauss turns the magnifying glass back on the anonymous mob of fans.

Do Americans really want idols? Does anyone more than an American hate someone who thinks he’s better than they are? The turn can be giddy and savage. What does that mean for someone like her 

Although set in the 1950s, The Queen of Tuesday raises questions about the precarious and curious nature of celebrity status that are as relevant today as they were seventy years ago.

Summary

At the end, Strauss gives a bit more explanation about why he chose to write a fictional book featuring real characters and close family members.

In families, at least in families like mine, a fact is interesting or useful only if it’s been encrusted into myth. Our memories are dunked in legend; my relatives make fanciful splashes.

And this novel really takes that idea to the max – if memories are dunked in legend, Strauss wants to submerge them further into the depths of fantasy. It’s not the reader’s job to find the truth behind the smoke and mirrors, but simply to enjoy the show.

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