Thursday, September 24, 2020

Review of The Queen of Tuesday: A Lucille Ball Story, by Darin Strauss

The premise of Strauss’s newest literary novel is grandiose and rather wacky: that his grandfather Isidore Strauss, a Long Island real estate developer, had a secret affair with Lucille Ball. This never happened. The author describes his work as “a hybrid: half memoir and half make-believe” sparked by “an innocent dream,” although Isidore and the actress did attend the same party in which Fred Trump demolished the glass Pavilion of Fun on Coney Island. 

Their imagined meeting there, moved to 1949 from its real 1966 occurrence, opens the story. Lucille, a former B-Movie queen, has ambitious plans for television; Isidore, a handsome Jewish man with a “Cary Grant chin,” is a better listener (and lover) than the actress’s hot-tempered, unfaithful husband.

The novel follows the pair – her overnight superstardom, his struggle to maintain normality amid their romance, their progressively strained marriages – mostly separately. In between, using metafiction techniques, the author describes his grandfather’s life and his own attempts to interest his (real) agent in a screenplay Isidore and Lucille co-wrote (obviously fictional). 

The tale succeeds in entertaining, and Lucille steals the show, of course. Most moving are the scenes where she finds her comedic niche via the character of Lucy Ricardo: “Maybe she can be the audience, only funnier and a little prettier… She can conquer the world with realness.” Strauss also offers insight into celebrity culture and the difficult interplay between Lucille’s on-screen and off-screen marriages, both involving Desi Arnaz.

So much even beyond the central conceit is made up, however, that it pushes the novel into the alternate history spectrum. Even the weekday when I Love Lucy aired is off-kilter (it was Mondays, not Tuesdays). It’s best for people who value emotional over historical truth, but all the same, it should spur interest in Lucille Ball and her accomplishments. 

The Queen of Tuesday was published in August by Random House (I reviewed it for the Historical Novels Review).  I'd love to know what historical fiction readers besides me think about this premise, and about the book if you've read it.  Would you consider reading it?


  1. Since I do not know the subject at all I'd like to read it.

  2. I did a fair amount of reading on Lucille Ball after finishing the novel. Her TV shows mostly aired during my childhood, and I wasn't paying close attention, although I've seen some of the more famous episodes.

  3. I am an enormous Lucille Ball/I Love Lucy fan, so I was really curious about this one! I've been a bit skeptical about it, but it does sound interesting so I may have to check it out. I still find this premise pretty odd and I'm not sure how I feel about it, haha, but it could be worth the read!

  4. I definitely understand where you're coming from!