She Came in Through the Bathroom Window

sundaysonthephoneWho came in through the bathroom window? That’s what I wondered. Local legend has it that an exuberant Beatles fan tried to sneak a peek of Paul McCarthy in his home, giving birth to the now famous song “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” A lyric from that song is the title of Christine Reilly’s debut novel Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday. Music and trivia fans will find the book packed full of references to songs and lyrics, sadly many of which went over my head. My curiosity to discover a deeper meaning kept me turning the pages,however. Written in a style different from my usual go to historical or character driven fiction, Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday broadened my reading experience.

The song “She came in through the bathroom window” is off the Abbey Road album released in 1969. This discovery transported me back to my babysitting days where I played the album displaying the iconic photo of the four Beatles crossing the street. I’m clueless how this may or may not relate to the book.

Unlike most stories I read in which characters are developed via the setting followed by a moving plot, Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is unique in that much of the narrative is revealed by placing the reader in the head of an individual character. Characterization formulated through the exchange of conversation is minimal and the elements of mood and tone bounce back and forth reflected in the personality of each character. This works especially well in the depiction of Claudio’s mentally ill sister, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mathilde is a born and raised New Yorker, coming from a family where money has never been an issue. Claudio Simone’s upbringing in Detroit was quite the opposite. After graduation from the University of Michigan, he hopped on a bus to New York where he wound up meeting Mathilde.

Both in their turbulent twenties, the two find love and companionship. They elope when the last performance of a play Mathilde has starred in comes to an end. After a civil ceremony, the two combine the cast party with their marriage reception and celebrate into the night dancing, snorting cocaine, and talking dreamily of their future.

The following day Claudia calls his folks to share the good news and inquire about his older sister Jane who has lived in a mental institution since age 15. Jane was diagnosed with a list of disorders, the most recent being schizophrenia. Plagued with guilt, Claudio feels responsible for Jane’s condition because she was sexually abused by a man when she was about 15 years old; Claudio thinks he could have prevented it somehow.

Sawyer is Malthide’s brother; gay and just wanting to find someone to love him. As a boy he was taunted and treated unkindly and Malthide was always there to offer comfort and support. Loyalty to family is all important to both Mathilde and Claudio.

That is until Claudio, in desperation, collaborates with Sawyer who agrees to marry Jane, secretly. Sawyer’s marriage to Jane allows her to receive much-needed institutional care. Claudio keeps this from Mathilde for years as Sawyer does from his partner Noah. And Jane, well Jane can’t figure out why she never gets to see her husband.

The Simones have three daughters: Natasha, Lucy, and Carly who is adopted as an infant from China. Mathilde’s family money allows the couple and their children to live comfortably: she works in the world of theatre and Claudio manages a vinyl record shop. The sisters are close-knit and unique, Natasha smart and unemotional, Lucy the heart and soul of the family, and Carly inquisitive and sensitive.

If asked the question “would I recommend Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday” I would answer “yes if you like quirky and want to try something different.” Personally I like getting a bit more involved with the characters I’m reading about and I guess that is what I felt a bit lacking with the exception of Jane, the schizophrenic character who is very credible.

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