The Time is Now, Monica Sparrow is a bittersweet consideration of grief, forgiveness and renewal. At its core is a quiet celebration of the transformative power of relationships. Matt Howard also cleverly entwines the minimalist lifestyle trend into the novel as a further introspection into what (and who) we find worth in.
The title character, Monica, and her unlikely romantic interest, Xavier, begin the story at different ends of the minimalism scale. While Monica rewards herself with unnecessary household trinkets, Xavier has stripped his ownership of physical things back to the bare essentials. Their consumer behaviour is a reflection of their emotional states – Monica compensating for the significant loss in her life by acquiring, while Xavier seeks to distance himself from his father’s legacy and mother’s abandonment by ‘de-quiring’. Their differing attitudes towards accumulating things is mirrored in their approach to words, which, one would presume, might cause issues as Xavier edits Monica’s books. However, as they become more entwined in each other’s lives, they both inevitably move toward more moderate consumer behaviours.
The growing relationship between Monica and Xavier is central to the story, but it takes a backseat in the second half of the novel as the focus moves to Monica’s sister, Diane, and their step-brother, Jamie. Jamie is a constant reminder of what Monica and Diane have lost and initially seems a lost cause. But he is a delightful surprise, and becomes a testament to the personal growth that can come from accepting yourself and having the belief and support of others.
A narcissistic alcoholic, Diane is the dark to Monica’s light. She too undergoes upheaval after overhearing her ‘friends’ make some choice comments about her and finding out her husband has been cheating. Although Howard dedicates time to Diane’s self-reflection, her epiphany and overnight transformation seem rushed and shallow compared to the pace and depth of Jamie, Monica and Xavier. Some readers may question the genuineness of her shift and find themselves waiting for her to revert to her self-important ways, as do Monica and Xavier.
Readers with connections to the publishing industry will enjoy Xavier’s depiction of the inner workings of the publishing house, Wyatt Dean. The “Monday meeting” scene, where Wyatt Dean publishers and editors meet to pitch ideas and cover designs, will have many readers grinning widely, if not laughing out loud. Howard draws on his insider perspective of the publishing world in crafting Xavier – he is witty, intelligent, observant and a little sarcastic. Although Monica is the thread binding the four central characters together, it is the appearance of Xavier in their lives that acts as the catalyst for their transformation.
The Time is Now, Monica Sparrow is a slow burner. The switching between character stories means it takes a little time and effort by the reader to connect with the four protagonists. Howard builds the momentum slowly; some readers may wonder whether there will be any kind of peak or resolution. When the climactic moment does arrive it is subtle, yet profound. The final chapters are spent tying up loose ends across the storylines, some of which feel superfluous. Monica’s decision to travel overseas, for example, sees her following her brother’s plan, which seems to contradict her journey to self-forgiveness. This may leave readers feeling Monica’s alteration is somewhat diluted, that her past still drives her present. The fact she is travelling any where at all does, however, speak to the expansion of her future beyond the memories of her brother.
Howard has previously published three other novels; Street Furniture (2006); Taking Off (2008); and Ethan Grout (2010). Fans of Howard’s previous titles will recognise the easy flowing, casual style of his prose and wry reflections on the publishing industry. The Time is Now, Monica Sparrow is no literary powerhouse but is an enjoyable, poignant story with believable and endearing characters that will encourage readers to reflect on the worth of the relationships in their own lives.
Katrina Tite is a freelance content writer and editor who works with small/medium businesses to harness their unique stories. She blogs at katrinatite.com and you can follow her on Facebook at KatrinaTiteWriterEditor.