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BOOK REVIEW: 'Monday, Monday': Three Survivors of Mass Campus Shooting and Their Lives Unfolding Over Four Decades
Historical novels don't have to be set in the distant past, but it's a bit unsettling to this aging reviewer that the events of Elizabeth Crook's "Monday, Monday" (Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 352 pages, $26.00) began on Monday, August 1, 1966 when engineering student Charles Whitman lugged an arsenal of weapons to the observation deck of the tower of the main administration building at the University of Texas and began shooting his M1 carbine at people on the plaza below.
Unsettling because at the time of Whitman's action, I was already on my second newspaper gig, on the pioneering staff of a start-up daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana.
Before he was done, shot dead, Whitman killed 16 people and wounded 32. It was the first mass shooting of civilians in the nation and the prototype for later college shootings at Virginia Tech and even my alma mater, Northern Illinois University. The Texas Tower shootings would remain the deadliest campus shooting on a U.S college campus until the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, when 32 people were killed and 17 were wounded.
Acclaimed historical novelist Elizabeth Crook -- who's written novels about Sam Houston and early Texas -- takes three fictional people who were there that hot day in Austin and creates a picture of the era and relationships that will enthrall even the most jaded observer of the 1960s.
And it's easy to get jaded, with CNN's multi-part documentary on the 1960s -- which opened last fall with a look at the JFK assassination in Dallas on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. The series, produced by Tom Hanks's Playtone production company andMark Herzog of Herzog & Company (HCO). resumes in May, so we'll get our fill of a decade that many of us who lived through it would like to forget.
Crook creates three characters -- students Shelly Maddox, Wyatt Calvert and his cousin Jack Stone -- who are caught up in the massacre: Shelly, who leaves her math class and walks directly into the path of the bullets, and two cousins, Wyatt and Jack, who rush from their classrooms to help the victims.
The characters may be fictional, but that doesn't prevent the reader from caring about them, wanting them to have a happy outcome in the wake of a searing tragedy, cheering them on. I experienced all these emotions about Shelly, Wyatt and Jack as I followed their lives over four decades. Shelly and Jack are physically wounded by Whitman's bullets, but Wyatt is wounded emotionally.
If ever there was a novel in which I didn't want to give away the details of the plot, "Monday, Monday" is that novel. This is a book where you don't want some idiot reviewer to tell all!
So stay away from online summaries of "Monday, Monday" and expect the unexpected in this novel and you won't be surprised how the love affair between Shelly and Wyatt turns out. And how it affects Wyatt's wife Elaine and his son Nate. And how it affects Jack Stone and his wife Delia. There! I've already said too much.
Native Texan Crook (born in Houston, raised in San Marcos) also paints a vivid picture of Texas, a state far more complex than the simplistic view of it shown by the mainstream media.
I've lived here going on six years and I've come to love the state and its diversity. Crook's characters live in Austin and San Marcos -- where the Aquarena water park plays a role in the novel -- and Alpine in west Texas and travel to Port A (Port Aransas) for the Gulf of Mexico beaches. During her pregnancy, Shelly lives with her aunt Aileen in Beeville, not far from Corpus Christi in south Texas. And, perhaps scariest of all, the Devil's Sinkhole near Rocksprings, where a rescue leads to deadly consequences for a man Shelly loves.
Reading "Monday, Monday" will give you a look at a state that is so often misunderstood -- as well as a wonderful portrayal of three people and their friends and families. And, speaking of mini-series, "Monday, Monday" is a prime candidate for one on, say, Sundance TV or Lifetime, in my opinion.
About the author
Elizabeth Crook is the author of three previous novels, "The Raven's Bride," "Promised Lands", and "The Night Journal" which won a Spur Award from Western Writers of America and a WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West. She has written for magazines and periodicals, including Texas Monthly and the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. She lives in Austin with her family. Elizabeth Crook's website: http://www.elizabethcrookbooks.com/index.htm
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For the lyrics to "Monday, Monday" by The Mamas and The Papas (1966): http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/thebigchill/mondaymonday.htm