Debut novel morphed from poetry to prose

Christine Reilly’s debut novel started off as poetry and then evolved over the course of eight years into prose that is, as she describes it, “highly lyrical and focused on the word.”

Published earlier this month, Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is not so much about love, although there is plenty of that. As she writes, “this will be a story about a family.”

Reilly will visit Wilton Library on Wednesday, April 27, from 7 to 8:30, to read from her book, answer questions, and discuss ideas about family and the human condition. Books will be available for purchase and signing. The event is free and registration is highly recommended. Call 203-762-3950 or visit

Reilly told The Bulletin she started working on on the book when she was 19 and in college. “But it was entirely different,” she said by phone on Friday. “It started off as a book of poetry. I had this fictional family in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Her focus was on the concepts of resilience and compassion. “They are two of my favorite things about humans,” she said. She began by writing poems about the family, focusing on language and characters.

Then, when she was in graduate school, she started to write in prose form. She began to think, “what would happen if I wrote a story about a New York family that gets afflicted with all kinds of bad things — physical illness, mental illness, financial straits — nothing too fractured but trials we all go through in a lifetime. What if it happened all at once?”

What happens? Do they emerge as one, strong unit or are they splintered and in pieces? What has happened to the familial bonds? Do they grow stronger or does the adversity divide them?

“That’s what I wanted to toy around with in my scenes,” she said.

What sets this book apart from others in the family genre is the tone, Reilly said, which she described as “a little quirky, a little edgy, a little offbeat.”

That’s apparent in the structure of the book, which has typical chapters interspersed with short chapters of perhaps no more than half a page, titled with single words such as “wonderland,” “trust,” “minion,” “folly,” “deficiency.”

They are devices to get the reader to take their time. Reilly was not aiming to write a page-turner, she said, but to get the reader “to stop and think and examine the characters.”

The title — a lyric from the Beatles’ She Came in Through the Bathroom Window — is an indication that music and song lyrics play an equally large role in the story.

“It’s a commentary on time and how time moves forward and how we as humans deal with time. Music and time are two themes throughout the book,” she explained

The author of two books of poetry, Reilly enjoys music like that of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, “music that tells stories. There is so much poetry and wonderful language in certain songs. They have always been very inspiring in my own writing.”

Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday focuses on the Simone family over the course of 28 years — parents Claudio and Mathilde and daughters Natasha, Lucy and Carly.

Reilly herself grew up on Long Island with her parents and two brothers, but said her literary family is purely imaginary. That said, she added, “all of the emotions these characters have felt are emotions I felt. I think it’s kind of required for an author to feel the things their character feels.

“I never base a character off one person in my life,” she said, but they can be a combination of many, including herself.

When asked what she hopes her reader will take away from the book she said, “I hope the reader is moved by it. And maybe not just in a sad way but in a happy way. I hope they are uplifted and laugh at times and at the end feel changed in a way. That’s the best I can ask for.”