Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday (★★★★★)

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Christine Reilly   *   Touchstone   *   April 5, 2016   *   336 Pages

Advanced Reader Copy provided by author through Net Galley.

Claudio and Mathilde Simone, once wild young things scraping by in the city, are now living quietly and comfortably in the suburbs of New York, raising their three daughters Natasha, Lucy, and Carly. As a family, the Simones are quirky, artsy, and quintessentially cool. Mathilde is a mildly successful actress, and, for the most part, is content with the life she’s made for herself. Claudio owns a record store that he’s able to keep afloat with help from an inheritance Mathilde receives after her parents die. That money also goes toward helping Claudio’s sister, Jane, who is in and out of mental hospitals for treatment for schizophrenia.

Each daughter has her own unique and well-developed story arc, too. Natasha is the typical over-achieving oldest sibling. She is almost unbelievably gifted academically, and somehow good at everything she tries. On the outside she appears to have it all together, but inside she’s feeling buried by the responsibility of watching over everyone, especially her sisters, and keeping the family together. Lucy is the sweet, middle child, the emotional heart of the family–also a major cause of worry for all, as she is dealing with a severe, life-threatening heart condition. Carly is the youngest daughter, adopted from China, and confused about how she fits in her own life and family. Unbeknownst to anyone else, she’s secretly pining to connect with her birth mother.

The first hundred or so pages of the book focus mostly on Claudio and Mathilde–their backstories, how they met, what their marriage is like–basically everything about them pre-children. But in the rest of the story, they all but disappear, and the focus is on their daughters and Claudio’s sister. If I could change one thing about this book (aside from the title), I would get rid of this introductory section on Claudio and Mathilde almost entirely. It’s slow and even irritating at times. Claudio and Mathilde are just so very “too cool for school.” If ever there were a moment when I considered not finishing the book, it was within those first few pages.

But, oh, how glad I am that I persevered! The rest of the book, the part that focuses on the daughters, is magnificent. I fell in love with these characters. Lucy and Jane get the most play–and theirs are the stories I felt most connected to–but I also felt like I knew and understood Natasha and Carly, too. It’s not easy creating so many whole, believable characters, but author Reilly does exactly that.

By far the best thing about this book, though, is the writing. It’s poetic and surprising. Reilly uses metaphor, comparison, imagery to describe the same old everyday stuff of life in creative and striking ways. For example, “She tried memorizing everything about the [Holocaust] survivor–a ninety-three-year old woman named Hannah–the crash of her voice, the shape of her earlobes–eggy and free, like ultrasound waves.” When Reilly describes something–even earlobes!–I can see it in my mind perfectly. I am right there with her. There were many, many times when I’d finish a paragraph and have to put the book down for a second, simply to process the awesomeness of what I just read. The writing is so, so good.

Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year. I’m not going to lie, I cried. A lot. But it was so nice to feel effortlessly connected to these characters and to their stories. I still can’t believe this is Christine Reilly’s debut novel. I can’t wait for the next one.

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