The Queen of Tuesday by Darin Strauss

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I read somewhere that this book grew out of a fantasy of the author when he learned that his grandfather and Lucille Ball had both attended an event hosted by Fred Trump. The fantasy involved a kiss between strangers and later…..well, more. Though I knew this book was not a factual biography of Lucille Ball, still, time with that amazing woman seemed a good idea. And the bonus of a fantasy concocted by a devoted grandson made it irresistible.

The event they attended was to engage the public in shattering a glass pavilion at a closed Coney Island amusement park to make way for a development which, as it happens, was never built. It occurred in 1966 while the fictional account has it in 1949 as B movie star Lucille Ball is several years away from I Love Lucy fame. The author’s grandfather Isidore attended as a Long Island real estate developer.

A few notable things from early in the book:  Events unfold in a non-linear line, so that sometimes we backtrack to learn the important thing that happened. A few phrases caught my attention.  In the first moments after Lucille met Isidore he “seems preoccupied, as if he’s also listening to a radio in a room down the hall.” When everyone in the crowd has a brick and they are gathering for the big event, the pavilion, “like a royal at the guillotine, awaits the blade.” Along the way we learn that Isidore wanted to be a writer, and thinks, “Is it so surprising that a builder from Long Island read Proust?” There’s lots about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez in this account that is essentially true, but not necessarily factual.

Darin, the author/grandson only intrudes occasionally; notably near the end:  “I’d wanted this book to chronicle my grandfather’s secret love affair with Lucille Ball, and end with my efforts to get the movie they conceived of together made. But my grandmother kept pulling the story to her. And stories have multiple strands.”

For me when Harriet becomes more than “the wife,” the book comes alive. While Lucille is interesting, it is her fame that overwhelms the person. Isidore is distinctive, but it is his connection to Lucille and her fame that takes over his story. Harriet is an unpleasant and sad figure who seemed real and alive to me.

There is a wonderful juxtaposition of the thoughts of each primary character as they near their ends:

And then she blinked away her husband and thought of Lucille Ball. “I know why that hussy did it,” Harriet thought.

“I don’t know why I did it,” Lucille thought, once, in her hospital bed. She realized what had begun happening to her, but to some extent she felt outside the bleak scene. Her time with Isidore, of all things, took her attention now.

“You did do it–you fell for me, Lucille,” Isidore said, silently. He’d said it in his head one foggy night, not long after Norman’s funeral…”

Darin Strauss, The Queen of Tuesday:  A Lucille Ball Story, Random House, 2020, 336 pages. Available from Amazon (I read the kindle version).

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