The Royal Tenenbaums meets J. D. Salinger in this “sharply observed and bittersweet family romance with a rock ’n’ roll heart” (Elle).
Claudio and Mathilde Simone, once romantic bohemians hopelessly enamored with each other, find themselves nestled in domesticity in New York, running a struggling vinyl record store and parenting three daughters as best they can: Natasha, an overachieving prodigy; sensitive Lucy, with her debilitating heart condition; and Carly, adopted from China and quietly fixated on her true origins.
With prose that is as keen and illuminating as it is whimsical and luminous, debut novelist Christine Reilly tells the unusual love story of this family. Poignant and humane, Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is a deft exploration of the tender ties that bind families together, even as they threaten to tear them apart.
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This reading group guide for Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Christine Reilly. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
This is a love story about the Simone family. Claudio and Mathilde met when they were teenagers and created a romantic bohemian lifestyle in nineties Manhattan before having three children, each daughter unique. There’s the eldest, Natasha, who possesses a cool and analytical outlook on life; Lucy, who tries to get through her debilitating heart condition by listening to classic rock and befriending her mentally ill aunt; and Carly, adopted from China, who develops a fascination with her true origins.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the device of capitalizing the word “Heart.” Why do you think the author made this choice? How do you think the “Heart,” both literally and metaphorically, threads through each character in different ways?
2. How does music, especially classic rock, factor into this book? How does it bond and define the Simones? Is there a song or artist your family bonds over, or one that instantly brings back a certain memory?
3. How do Mathilde’s roles on the stage help her interpret her personal life? Has a piece of art, such as a book or film, ever reflected a problem in your life and helped you come to a decision?
4. How does Claudio and Mathilde’s relationship change when they realize that Mathilde is pregnant with their first child? How do they try to adopt the “roles” of parents-to-be? What does our society dictate a good parent should be, and how is that similar or different from Claudio and Mathilde’s idea of good parenting?
5. Do you agree with Sawyer and Claudio’s decision to not tell their partners about Sawyer’s marriage to Jane? In the chapter “Claudio’s Debt Begins,” Claudio says of Mathilde, “She’d never let it happen,” and Sawyer says of Noah, “I’d never be able to pay him back.” Which reasoning do you relate to most, and what would you do in this situation?
6. In the chapter “Underling,” Otis’s friend Darren says, “Love only works if both people are equally happy. Or equally miserable.” Think of your own relationships. How much do you agree with this? In what ways is Claudio and Mathilde’s relationship a balancing act to reach this equilibrium?
7. How do the sisters complement one another? What is each sister’s role in the Simone family?
8. Claudio and Mathilde were bohemian teens steeped in nostalgia, and don’t care for with pop culture. Do you think their relationship would blossom differently if they’d met in 2015, and how?
9. Carly feels a sense of detachment from her sisters because she is not biologically related to them. To what extent is a family defined by biological relationships, and, in your experience, what else defines a family?
10. Claudio and Mathilde do not keep apace with modern technological devices, such as TV or computers, choosing instead to steep themselves in nostalgic items like old records. How does the prevalence of technology distinguish the Simone sisters’ lives from that of their parents?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Create a playlist of songs that appear throughout the book and listen to them while revisiting certain passages. How does music affect your sensory experience of the book? Try to pick out a playlist for the next book your group reads, too!
2. Try your hand at writing a poem about one of your favorite characters. What does it reveal about them? Share it with the group, and see what you discover.
A Conversation with Christine Reilly
You’ve said that you’re a big fan of The Virgin Suicides, and even have a tattoo that says lux. Which authors have had the greatest influence on you, and how important is it that writers read?
It goes without saying that writers need to read as much as possible. I love the feel of books on paper, but I also have the Kindle app on my phone and read during free moments—on the subway, while brushing my teeth, while in line. One of the perks of being a writer is that a writer can read simultaneously to develop craft and for pleasure.
But how difficult is that favorite author question? I will try my best. My favorite book is Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, followed by Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. My favorite authors are Jennifer Egan, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov, Joan Didion, Kazuo Ishiguro, James Baldwin, J. D. Salinger, Saul Bellow, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Gilbert, Aimee Bender, Tim O’Brien, Megan Abbott, and David Foster Wallace.
My favorite playwrights are William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, and Anton Chekhov.
My favorite poets are William Blake, D. A. Powell, Ilya Kaminsky, Terrance Hayes, and Sappho.
My favorite nonfiction authors are Lawrence Wright and Elie Wiesel.
My favorite children’s authors are Louis Sachar and J. K. Rowling.
My favorite young adult authors are Judy Blume, S. E. Hinton, and Stephen Chbosky.
Ernest Hemingway taught me how to write dialogue. Amy Bloom taught me how to understand characters. And a book I recently read that I love is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
Is that enough? I don’t think so. I can name hundreds of other authors who have influenced my work. Every time I am touched by a piece of writing, I try to email or write a letter to the author to let them know how moved I was.
How did your experience as a poet affect the writing process of this novel?
My background in poetry made the whole writing process painstakingly slow, but I cannot imagine writing any differently. As I write, I pay the most attention to the word, then the sentence, then the paragraph, and lastly the book as a whole. I have a microscopic palette. Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday initially came into the world as a book of poetry when I was nineteen. Actually, it started with the last poem of the book What Makes Me Anxious. In grad school I studied poetry, but toyed with the idea of writing a novel as a side project. I created the Simone family, who didn’t leave me alone for the next four years. Once I had something faintly resembling a finished novel, I queried a laundry list of agents, many of whom told me that the collection of words I had strewn together was beautiful, but in no shape or form a novel. “Too quiet”; “I’m in love with Lucy but what’s the story?”; “Fascinating characters but no plot”—comments like that. Back to the drawing board. I spent that summer disassembling each scene and putting it in a different order, and voilà! A plot was born. I was the last person to know about it.
Music runs throughout this book and the Simones love classic rock, especially the Beatles. Did you listen to a particular playlist to inspire you as you wrote?
One playlist, no. Certain artists and albums—yes, absolutely. This seems obvious but all of the Beatles albums, especially Abbey Road—certainly its B-side medley. And the Beach Boys, and Bob Dylan. Those were probably the top three. Radiohead, Simon & Garfunkel, Air, Elliott Smith, Jack White, the White Stripes, Fiona Apple, James Taylor, Tom Waits, Ravi Shankar, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin also. But my playlists depended so much on when and where I was in my life. When I edit, I like to listen to Elton John, or Motown—Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Foundations, the Four Tops, the Jackson 5. I love old music, but I am discovering new music all the time. I love music festivals. My mom went to the original Woodstock when she was fifteen, so I like to think it’s in my genes!
Growing up, I loved making personalized playlists for my friends. I do that as a writing teacher now, but with books: I “prescribe” each of my students certain books and authors to read, catering to what I think would resonate with each student and expand his or her mind. It’s the same with music, and with all kinds of art, and it’s so different for every person. I like to think that you only finally know somebody if you can make her or him a playlist they’d love.
You earned your master’s in writing in New York and also teach and live in New York. To what extent is your experience of present-day New York different from the New York of Claudio and Mathilde’s heyday?
My family is from New York—Queens, Long Island, and the Bronx. My mom knew the 1970s New York. She lived in Hell’s Kitchen in her twenties . . . now Hell’s Kitchen means designer cookie shops and restaurants. I’ve read books and seen films about New York from all eras, and of course I feel wistful about what I haven’t experienced, but people are guaranteed to always feel that about some era. That’s the thing about time. Safety is a priority—what I appreciate about present-day New York is not feeling like someone’s going to stab me when I cross the street. But then I see art like that photography series where the CBGB has turned into a John Varvatos boutique and I think, Something is destroyed when rents rise. And I wonder, Could anything have prevented such a demise of New York’s character? But there are little areas all around the city with history and grit if you look for them.
How did your experience working in a hospital inform your writing of Jane? What sort of research did you do to accurately portray a character with mental illness?
During my time at the hospital, I worked with several schizophrenic patients, who were the original inspirations for Jane. This is the most moving thing I remember learning about schizophrenia: living with the disease is many people whispering, speaking and shouting in your brain at all times. There’s a recording that simulates the internal symptoms of schizophrenia, and after listening to it for a mere five minutes I felt extremely agitated. I had a difficult, difficult struggle imagining life with those voices all the time. In this sense, I entered Jane’s heart before her head. And I pray that I did her justice. A couple of friends of mine who are doctors helped check the historical facts, such as medications in the 1970s and the like.
In the chapter titled “Freewheeling,” Sawyer says, “You can’t choose the family you’re born into. You have to love them.” Noah however, sees family as “Just a set of people who thought you were obliged to them, for whatever reason.” What do you think family is, and how has your idea of family shaped Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday?
People feel deeply about their families, often more deeply than anything else in their lives. I want anyone who picks up this book to understand its emotional notes, much like how a musician can pick up a piece of sheet music and play it with soul, without ever hearing the music before.
Even though it’s a work of fiction, one of my intentions for Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday was [for it] to serve as a love letter to my own family. The only thing nonfiction about this book is that I’ve felt all the feelings all of my characters have felt, and [I] hope that it evokes the same for my readers. . . . Certain themes are always haunting me. For instance, I wanted to pay tribute to my grandfather. He survived five concentration camps during the Holocaust and his story is incredible. The fear of society forgetting was what drove that subplot forward.
And I wanted to write about race. We have a strange way of dealing with race in America, although that’s not to say racism isn’t a problem in other countries. I learned as a K–12 teacher how crippling and isolating identity bias can be. Children perform poorly if they are the only student of their race in a classroom—this makes sense. Children learn by seeing the differences and similarities among people, and by absorbing the negative biases about those differences.
I wanted this to be, when all is said and done, a hopeful novel. My favorite quality about human beings is resilience. I wanted the Simone family to struggle, to suffer tragedy, and yet to overcome, but not in a way where everything works out, because in real life everything may not always work out.
Music in Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday
Songs (in order of appearance)
“Baby Love,” the Supremes
“Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” from The Sound of Music
"It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Muzak version)
“Walk on the Wild Side,” Lou Reed
“Hey, Hey, What Can I Do?,” Led Zeppelin
“Old Time Rock and Roll,” Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band
“I’m a Soul Man,” Sam & Dave
“Mr. Tambourine Man,” Bob Dylan
“Daydream Believer,” Monkees
“Piggies,” The Beatles
“Sexy Sadie,” The Beatles
“Lady Madonna,” The Beatles
“She’s Leaving Home,” The Beatles
“She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” The Beatles
“Help!,” The Beatles
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” Bob Dylan
“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” The Smiths
“Fast Car,” Tracy Chapman
“Carry That Weight,” The Beatles
“Michelle,” The Beatles
“Lovely Rita,” The Beatles
“Come and Get It,” The Beatles
“For No One,” The Beatles
“Walk Like a Man,” The Four Seasons
“Tiny Dancer,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny),” “Little Jeannie,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Honky Cat,” “Nikita,” “Daniel,” “Levon,” “Your Song,” Elton John
“Visions of Johanna,” Bob Dylan
“Juicy,” The Notorious B.I.G.
“What Is Life,” George Harrison
“Norwegian Wood,” Beatles
“The Love You Save,” Jackson 5
“Ziggy Stardust,” David Bowie
“Ooh Child,” The Five Stairsteps
“Shout!,” The Isley Brothers
“Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Golden Slumbers,” Beatles
“The End,” Beatles
“Her Majesty,” Beatles
The White Album, The Beatles
Rubber Soul, The Beatles
Revolver, The Beatles
Abbey Road, The Beatles
Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
Christine Reilly lives in New York City. She has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Dalton School, and Collegiate School. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University and her Master’s degree in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is her first novel.
“Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday reveals how trouble, when visited upon a loving family, can be transformed—if imperfectly—by curiosity, empathy, and imagination. We’re in a poet’s hands; every sentence here crackles with electric vitality. This is a unique and big-hearted novel.”
– Pamela Erens, author of The Virgins
"Reilly’s debut novel explores how a love evolves as responsibilities mount for two parents with three very different daughters…deft in her characterizations…full of imaginative anecdotes and vibrant details…Reilly’s first novel is touching and nostalgic."
– Publishers Weekly
Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is an energetic, captivating, and lyrical debut. Here is a writer with a wonderfully eccentric way of seeing the world, weaving a family story both whimsical and profound, in which each character is dealt with tenderly, and each sentence is an adventure. Christine Reilly is a talent to watch.
– Amy Shearn, author of The Mermaid of Brooklyn and How Far Is The Ocean From Here
"Reminiscent of Lorrie Moore, and J.D. Salinger, and “Mr and Mrs Bridge,” Sunday's on the Phone to Monday is a beautiful thing, the kind of book a poet would dream a novel was."
– Daniel Wallace, author of The Kings and Queens of Roam and Big Fish
"Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is a prismatic and moving exploration of how the past can haunt, motivate, and ultimately heal us—or in the words of Natasha Simone, “Memory can be like medicine.” With great empathy and a keen eye for the offbeat detail, Christine Reilly depicts a family unique in its troubles but universal in its longing to overcome them. Reilly is masterful in her illumination of the inner lives of her characters."
– Mary Otis, author of Yes, Yes Cherries
“With subtle genius and a wide-open heart, Christine Reilly invites us into a world that is at once strange and familiar. A stunning debut."
– Alethea Black, author of I Knew You'd be Lovely
"Sunday's on the Phone to Monday is a fantastic love letter to New York City. This is a multi-generational story of death and life, illness and wellness. Reilly is the undisputed master at spinning poetry into prose. Her words are arresting, poignant, and searingly optimistic."
– Kim Stolz, author of Unfriending My Ex
“A lyrical and poetic look at family, love, and loss.”
This whimsical, bittersweet debut novel recalls the work of filmmaker Wes Anderson, both in subject (a complicated, tightknit family full of smart, worried people) and in style (full of quirky, impossible-to-ignore formal choices).
– Kirkus (Starred review)
Christine Reilly’s shimmering debut hurls us into the beating center of the Simone family, and our attachment is immediate and lasting. Both tender and dark, big-hearted and heart-breaking, Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is a book you won’t forget, filled with quiet power and roaring truths.
– Megan Abbott, author of The Fever
"A compelling family tale rich in vivid and relatable struggles."
"A sharply observed and bittersweet family romance with a rock ’n’ roll heart.... Reilly’s dreamy, slipstream style dazzles."
“A fusion of a poet’s relentless focus on the possibilities of a single word with the novelist’s construction of imagined worlds.”--Kirkus
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