SEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak

seven days of us

I was going to attempt to do one of my overly verbose, wordplay-filled summaries for this novel, as they are turning out to be one of my very favorite things to write, but I found that the publisher’s copy is actually pretty perfect as on its own, particularly in capturing the frantic, frenetic tone of the story. It goes:

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. She’s just returned from treating an epidemic abroad and has been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity, and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive….

I mean, come on.  I suppose it does also make it sound like a Lifetime and/or Hallmark movie, but, unremarkable and problematic as they may be (must they all center around white, upper-middle class people and their problems, in this the year of our Lord 2020), you kind of have to admit that they seemed to have cracked a hell of an alluring formula. Why else would my mother audiences keep coming back for more? 

But that’s the vibe I got from Francesca Hornak’s Seven Days of Us. And while I may not generally be a fan of  the tried and true trope of melodrama stemming from people not communicating clearly with one another, I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of it in this telenovela of a novel. Admittedly, my interest in it only began about the midway point, finding the first half’s set-up and exposition excessive to the point of being tedious. The nearer the story got to Christmas however, the more all the secrets and pent up tension from the preceding pages threatened to explode. The outcome of which was the bookish equivalent of not being able to look away from a trainwreck. I was surprised to find myself gasping and harshly whispering out things like “ⁿᵒ” and “ᵖˡᵉᵃˢᵉ ᵈᵒⁿ’ᵗ” and “ᵒʰ ᵍᵒᵒᵈ ᵍᵒᵈ ʷʰʸ” so often. It was pretty great.

Much of that enjoyment was a direct result of Hornak’s remarkable job at writing this bevy of fastidious, slightly unlikeable characters. You may not wish to spend some time with them in real life, but you can certainly, assuredly, relate and empathize with every single one of them. We might not be going through many of their specific set of issues (Olivia labeling them first world problems is spot on for the most part), but we know how family can be a battleground almost as often as it is a haven. It’s another time-tested trope — one that rings particularly true in this time of quarantine and lockdowns. 

It’s a little wild to think that this stay-at-home angle was probably the one aspect of the novel the author must have thought not many readers would find relatable. Why would she? This book was first published in 2017, after all. Back when we were all still taking the act of being able to go outside your house and mingling with other people who are not immediately related to you totally and utterly for granted. Ha ha ha who would have ever thought.

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