Monday, Monday: A Novel

Image of Monday, Monday: A Novel
Release Date: 
April 29, 2014
Sarah Chrichton Books
Reviewed by: 

“Elizabeth Crook vividly paints the terror, panic, and confusion as well as the bloody results of real-life shooter Charles Whitman’s horrendous actions.”

Monday, Monday is both the title and the hit song by The Mamas & The Papas and this novel is based on a real event.

The main character, Shelly, a college student, is crossing campus the moment Charles Whitman opens fire from the University of Texas tower on August 1, 1966. The opening chapters are graphic as the reader is put in the center of the shooting with Shelly and Wyatt and Jack—two cousins who risk their lives to save her and others caught in the open. These other two college students—Jack, a Vietnam Vet, and his cousin, Wyatt, an aspiring artist—are inextricably linked with Shelly from this moment on.

Elizabeth Crook vividly paints the terror, panic, and confusion as well as the bloody results of real-life shooter Charles Whitman’s horrendous actions. Shelly, scarred and damaged, postpones plans for her future and focuses on hiding and avoiding questions and sympathy. Befriending Wyatt, the person who held her intimately and protectively during the last moments of Whitman’s rampage, Shelly shows him her scars, and in that moment their friendship turns into an all-consuming and forbidden love. Wyatt risks his marriage to be with Shelly, falling in love though he will never leave his son. Shelly, eventually awakened to this reality, is heartbroken and retreats, only to discover she is pregnant with Wyatt’s child.

Shuffled off to Beeville to live with her Aunt Aileen away from the curious stares of her parents’ neighbors during her sheriff-father’s run for re-election, Shelly gives birth to Carlotta and is convinced to give the baby to Jack and his wife, Delia. Jack, in the process of risking his life, was wounded by Whitman and left sterile, so adopting a baby is the only option for him and Delia. Wyatt, struggling as an artist and husband, moves away with his own growing family, never contacting Shelly until he mails her the portrait he painted of her the day she revealed her scars.

Shelly heals both from the shooting and the affair and eventually marries another victim of Whitman’s—though Dan was never shot, he believes he was a coward for not helping and admits to seeing Shelly lying on the pavement bleeding and wounded that day. Eventually Dan has his opportunity to act with what he believes is courage in face of certain death—much to the detriment of his family—and the narrative turns at this point.

The nude portrait, hidden away in a closet and painted over with clothing, much like the secret about Carlotta and the affair, is not exactly a secret. Most everyone knows about the painting just as most everyone figures out about the affair. Much like the affair, the clothing slips away revealing the naked truth, and Madeline, Shelly’s daughter with Dan, is hurt and angry, realizing her mother had an affair. Madeline, grown up by the time, is an embittered woman from a childhood she feels was filled with neglect and the preference for Carlotta, trapped in a marriage to a cheater.

Madeline has very little to offer as a character except as a foil to Carlottta. Madeline, frustrated and hurt, acts understandably selfish and foolish, living out the trope of the desperate girl for love, marrying a cheater, willing to believe his lies in order to feel special, and always doubting herself and others while simultaneously burdening them with her self-inflicted pain.

Despite the rationalization of her behavior, Madeline is unsympathetic. Carlotta, the opposite of Madeline, is better constructed, yet she is symbolic justification for Wyatt’s and Shelly’s affair: she is good, kind, patient, loving, intelligent, creative, and ideal, whereas the legitimate child, Madeline, is the opposite.

Jack is not particularly fleshed out as a character beyond chain-smoking and gruffness, and Delia is a background supporter not at all realized—there is no color, sound, or smell to her.

Wyatt and Dan are better fleshed-out characters only because of their interaction with Shelly. While the novel’s focus is on Shelly, an opportunity is missed to bring to life other characters and make Monday, Monday a truly multidimensional novel.

Readers interested in this piece of University of Texas history will likely enjoy Monday, Monday.