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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
Elizabeth Crook was born in Houston and lived in Nacogdoches and then San Marcos, Texas, with her parents and brother and sister until age seven, when the family moved to Washington D.C., where her father was director of VISTA for Lyndon Johnson. Two years later her father was appointed ambassador to Australia and the family moved to Canberra. When they returned to Texas, Elizabeth attended public schools in San Marcos, graduating from San Marcos High School in 1977. She attended Baylor University for two years and graduated from Rice University in 1982.
She has written four novels: The Raven's Bride and Promised Lands, published by Doubleday and reissued by SMU Press as part of the Southwest Life and Letters series; The Night Journal, published by Viking/Penguin in 2006 and reissued in paperback by Penguin; and Monday, Monday, published by Sarah Crichton Books, FSG, in April 2014 and due in paperback from Picador in September, 2015.
Elizabeth has written for periodicals such as Texas Monthly and the Southwestern Historical Quarterly and served on the council of the Texas Institute of Letters and the board of the Texas Book Festival. She is a member of Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, and the Texas Philosophical Society, and was selected the honored writer for 2006 Texas Writers' Month. Her first novel, The Raven's Bride, was the 2006 Texas Reads: One Book One Texas selection. The Night Journal was awarded the 2007 Spur award for Best Long Novel of the West and the 2007 Willa Literary Award for Historical Fiction. Monday, Monday was awarded the 2015 Jesse H. Jones award for fiction.
She currently lives in Austin with her husband and two children.
Monday, Monday: A Novel
New York: Macmillan, Sarah Crichton Books
Hardcover, 978-0374228828 (also available in e-book and paperback)
352 pages, $26.00
April 29, 2014
“I don’t want to live my whole life knowing that my fears might come true, and just hoping for them not to.”
Shelly didn’t answer for a moment before saying, “But that’s what most of us do. And if they do come true, we survive and then walk down the middle of whatever road we choose then.”
MONDAY, MONDAY, the latest novel by Austin’s Elizabeth Crook and winner of the Texas Institute of Letters’s Jesse H. Jones fiction award for 2014, is only nominally about Charles Whitman’s sniper attack from the tower on the University of Texas Austin campus in 1966; it could’ve been any horrific act of violence. This novel is actually about the butterfly effect (in the shape of a bullet), the long-term effects of violence on survivors, bonds forged during the aftermath, balancing conflicting responsibilities, atonement, and redemption.
The first seventeen pages of Monday, Monday are riveting. The juxtaposition between the innocence of the young students – daydreaming in math class, taking lecture notes in history class – and the monstrosity of what is happening outside their classrooms (told from multiple perspectives) is remarkably powerful. Shelly is one of Whitman’s victims: “[S]omething struck her, slinging one of her arms outward and spinning her toward the small hedge that bordered the grassy square. She tried to break the fall, but the side of her head struck the ground and she lay for a second, stunned....She tried to get to her knees….But her arm was coming apart. It seemed almost detached. The bone above the elbow jutted jaggedly out of the flesh, and the lower part was weirdly twisted. Blood poured from her breast. She tried lifting her hands to stop the blood, but her arm wouldn’t comply.” Wyatt and his cousin Jack rescue Shelly. Bonded by shared trauma, survivor’s guilt, and the isolation of so singular an occurrence, Shelly and Wyatt are “drawn to each other, imprinted on each other.”
The plot of Monday, Monday is original and masterfully executed. However, the pacing is uneven and tends to bog down in the second third of the book. Some of the shame and guilt-induced agonizing could’ve done with editing – a bit shorter novel would not have lost its impact. Crook peoples her story with likeable characters, ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. She is equally at home with stunning action sequences and the small comedic despairs that make up daily life.
Crook’s language and word choice are precise, her imagery skillful. “[Shelly] was like the aquifer with all those dark channels that he knew were there but wasn’t able to see.” In Alpine, “Stars salted the sky all the way to the ground.” Crook’s imagery of physical injury is almost too good and we’ll leave it at that. Instead of the stereotypical thunderstorm accompanying the climax of the novel, there’s a dust storm – perfect for west Texas.
As the chickens (or bats, as it were) come home to roost, those rifle shots are still reverberating decades later.
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