Score: (94/100) 9.4 out of 10
Fifty-Three Tuesdays by GK Nakata explores a fascinating what-if scenario: what would happen if a respected lawyer & politician were to have an affair with someone whom the rest of the world might be ashamed of?
The book follows Glenn, the aforementioned lawyer & politician, who finds himself enamored with a bargirl named Maya. While Glenn isn't the archetypal bar clients, neither is Maya. Maya is naive, shy, and actually very human.
What's amazing about this this book is that it portrays red-light district & adult workers as very human. Why wouldn't they be? They are human like the rest of us, full of doubts, fears, hopes, dreams, ambitions, inhibitions, apprehensions, and motivations as well as having friends, family, and even pets of their own. They aren't “bad people” or subhuman because of the work they do. They're trying to make a living like the rest of us. They want a better life like the rest of us.
In this sense, this book is comparable to Silver Lights by Michelle Lynn which focused on the opposite (hostess) perspective and humanized them.
The more we've gotten to know people who've done adult films, the more we've come to realize that they're usually good people who just happen to do work that society deems dark or questionable. Some even raise money for charities and champion things like conservation and compassion. Who would've thought?
This is in perfect contrast to Glenn, a damaged human being who has long tried to hold up an upstanding public image (for the sake of his career) and marriage (to his estranged wife, Katie).
Glenn retreats to a bar run by Mama Linh, a fascinating character in her own right. Mama Linh is dynamic as both a cutthroat businesswoman and as a motherly figure who actually cares about the well-being of Glenn and her girls, above just exploiting them for financial gain. So, on one hand, she's a bit of a pimp, on the other hand, she's the closest thing to a mom that many of her girls have. In fact, it is even implied that she becomes the de facto godmother to many of the girls' children and grandchildren after they move on with their lives. Imagine that: these girls have lives.
The poetic irony of all of this is that much of what the bargirls do is a front—a facade—not all that different from what Glenn did as a public defendant (sometimes for some unscrupulous people) and eventually as a public official and politician. A lot of it is an act. What the public doesn't see is often times the real, genuine person, and it's nothing like the idealized version that shows up on an Instagram feed, another aspect of this story which is played up.
Glenn, who holds positions you'd normally associate with an alpha-male archetype, is actually the exact opposite of that. Deep down inside, he is damaged, vulnerable, weak, and unsure of himself. He is a mama's boy with trust issues and a profound fear of abandonment that stems from his very harsh upbringing, seeing his mother beaten by his father and resorting to eating grass due to the situation his father put them in. So, his thoughts, feelings, and actions are very understandable, although Glenn does prove to be a very frustrating protagonist despite this. Maya seems to be a very kindred soul to Glenn, although younger. Her life story was very similar to his, suffering abuse and poverty as well. Maya has a lot of things that make her very relatable. For one, she seems to be motivated to do what she does in order to help her sick mother and impoverished family overseas as well as to take care of herself and her “four-legged son,” Rusty. She also suffers from a sinus condition caused by plastic surgery and seems apprehensive to take any money from Glenn, who she genuinely seems to view as a good and likely confused man.
However, how much of this is manipulation and an act—a fantasy? How much of this is genuine and real? Those questions seem to dominate this book from beginning to end.
Interestingly, while we mostly get Glenn's perspective and thoughts, we also occasionally get glimpses into Maya's thoughts as well. The problem is: Glenn can't read Maya's thoughts and vice-versa, so misunderstandings are prevalent. That's one of the keys to a good romance. The only problem with that is, it seems to happens over and over again. There's only so many times you can go back to the same well before it runs dry. In other words, it kinda gets old. Glenn and Maya have so many falling out moments, it almost because comedic after a while. Because of these misunderstandings, both characters venture out and try their hands with other partners, some good, some ok, and some downright nasty. One of the most interesting of these is apparently a conscientious hooker who actually ends up counseling Glenn a bit. It's actually both interesting and hilarious to think that this hooker starts giving him romantic advice.
The other thing that keeps happening over and over again is that the characters keep eating. The characters are constantly sitting at a table and eating. Yes, we understand that some of these dishes are culturally significant and show that the cook actually cares about the person trying the dish, but... how many more times do we have to read about it?
The writing is usually quite good, although it has its share of problems. For example, “most important” is used instead of “most importantly.” In another instance, there's the typo “Oh well, good chance to get know her friend” [SIC] with the word “to” clearly missing. The author does do some impressive things. Case in point: the text messages. The author actually took the time to craft the text messages like actual text messages. They even appear in boxes/bubbles the way they'd appear on your phone. We'll give him half a point for that alone. That demonstrates care and style. Similarly the broken English is handled so well. We know people—mostly immigrants—who talk like this. This is what some of them talk like.
We'd like to mention that Gary Nakata brings some invaluable experience as an actual public official into this book to make it seem and feel all the more real. He is also very good at detailed descriptions, particularly of the female form. He really fleshes tings out and brings them to life.
Our biggest complaint about this book by far is that it's JUST. TOO. LONG. Why is this ROMANCE novel nearly 700 pages, 120+ chapters, and probably 20+ hours long?! That seems far too long for this genre in the modern age. There are times when reading this book is absolutely exhausting. Yes, it's extremely interesting and the characters are great at times, but it's just too much.
We get it. The author probably wrote it chapter by chapter over the course of several years and was probably inspired by multiple different experiences. We also get that it's not meant to be read in one sitting and that it provides a great value to the reader since they get to read what's essentially 3-5 books for the price of one book. However, the fact remains... could this not have been cut down to like 400 pages with a clear beginning, middle, and end? Did there need to be like a dozen misunderstandings, side-quests, and sub-plots?
Yes, we also get that each of the other partners is a foil for the main characters. That's literature. But, could the author have decided on maybe one, two, or maybe three side partners? Eddie, Katie, and Caleb were enough. They taught the characters what they needed to know about what they wanted and didn't want in a partner. Everyone else seems to be superfluous. Ok, the conscientious hooker who wouldn't kiss anyone “with tongue” was funny, but the point remains.
Overall, this is a solid book with some very commendable things, mostly interesting lead characters and an exotic style.
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