Monday Night Summary
by Kay Boyle

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Monday Night Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Monday Night, Boyle’s sixth novel, is the only one that does not have an autobiographically based American woman as its heroine. Wilt, the main character of Monday Night, is an expatriate newspaperman who has lived in Paris for twenty years. He dreams of writing a great novel, if he can only find the right subject. A seedy, alcoholic, physically repulsive, single-minded, middle-aged man, he believes that he has finally discovered the story that will enable him to realize his dream. He has been led to this conclusion by his chance meeting with Bernie, a young, naïve American doctor who has come to Paris to pay homage to the famous Monsieur Sylvestre, the toxicologist whose testimony has resulted in the conviction and imprisonment—and sometimes execution—of several men.

Wilt is captivated by Bernie’s quest, but he is much less interested in helping the younger man fulfill his goal than he is in his own thoughts, fantasies, and thirsts. Bernie, bewildered and tired, cannot resist Wilt, who drags him from one bar to another looking for leads to the famous scientist. They find his house; Sylvestre is not there, but a strange butler shows them around and obliquely reveals the truth about his employer. As they meet several people who know Sylvestre through various connections, Wilt begins to suspect that the man they are looking for is actually a criminal who has falsified his evidence in order to make up for his own failures in love and life.

Wilt becomes more and more excited, convinced that he now has the material to write the great novel of which he has dreamed. As the sinister and sordid story is revealed, Wilt is quite unconcerned about its effect on Bernie, who, after traveling all the way to Paris to express his admiration of his hero, has seen his ideals shattered.

At a train station, Wilt catches sight of Sylvestre alighting from a train. At the same time, Wilt sees a newspaper headline indicating that several murder cases involving Sylvestre’s testimony have been reopened. Bernie has disappeared. It is clear that no one will ever know of Wilt’s independent search and discovery.

This is not a pleasant story. Boyle seems to be saying that Wilt is doomed to failure, just as Bernie is fated for disappointment. Their quest was worthy, but they were not able to meet the challenge. The fault lies not in their ideals but in their own weaknesses.

The larger political and social issues that concerned Boyle so urgently in her other fiction are not emphasized here; perhaps as a result, Monday Night is one of her most popular novels. It is also the one that Boyle said was her favorite. It is not typical of her writing, but with its concentrated focus, its original characters, and its suspenseful plot, it is quite possibly not only her most popular but also her best novel.

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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Ford, Hugh. Four Lives in Paris. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987.

Lesinska, Zofia P. Perspectives of Four Women Writers on the Second World War: Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and Rebecca West. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.

Mellen, Joan. Kay Boyle: Author of Herself. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

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