By Elizabeth Crook
Published in 2014 by Sarah Crichton Books.
Reviewed by David Eric Tomlinson.
Elizabeth Crook’s Monday, Monday begins with a bang. It’s August 1, 1966, and when Shelly Maddox leaves a confusing lecture on imaginary numbers, angling across the University of Texas campus to buy some tampons, she walks into one of the first, deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. In a scene made all the more painful for its touches of the surreal (“It was a clownish gesture,” Crook writes of the first victim’s awkward flop to the ground, “and she wondered how to respond to it”), Shelley is critically wounded by Charles Whitman, forced to play dead in the agonizing Texas heat, until two students – the cousins Wyatt Calvert and Jack Stone – come ducking through the crossfire to her rescue.
Crook’s opening is wonderfully drawn – tight, gripping, imaginative, unsentimental – and it establishes certain expectations in the reader. Few writers could sustain this level of tension. Nevertheless, in a thoughtful meditation on the psychological effects of trauma, Crook manages more or less to do just that. After a heated affair with Wyatt (who is married), Shelly gives birth to an illegitimate daughter named Carlotta. Jack (who is also married, and whose own wounds from the shooting have made him sterile) agrees to raise the child as his own. And in an epic story set against forty years of Texas history, these three physically wounded children grow into emotionally scarred adults. Each feeling, like Shelly, that they “could make no sense of [their] past, and that [they] had failed to face the present.”
Hewing too closely to history, Crook occasionally loses sight of Shelley’s intensely personal journey of recovery. After the brilliant opening, there are a few scenes that feel unnecessary, included only because of their historical accuracy. And I would have liked to see Wyatt open up to his wife about the illegitimate Carlotta; Crook doesn’t shy away from other difficult conversations, so why this one? But these are minor flaws in an otherwise finely crafted novel about regret, and secrets, and how the “truth did not set you free; it bound you to your life. It bound you to the people you loved.”
As Jack’s wife Delia says, when revealing to Carlotta the secret of her parentage: “Listen with an open heart.”
Take her advice, and you’ll find this story has much to offer.
David Eric Tomlinson has been a member of the Writers’ League since 2013. He was born and raised in Oklahoma, educated in California, and now lives in Texas. You can learn more about him at www.DavidEricTomlinson.com