Reviews by title
Reviews by author
Onyx reviews: Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 9/20/2017
Most families probably wouldn't find it arduous to be confined to quarters
for a seven-day period that includes Christmas. You stock up on food (or have it
delivered if supplies run low), queue up some interesting programs on Netflix,
bake and cook, play some board games, read the books that have been sidelined
all year, and maybe even have some conversations. It all sounds rather
delightful, like being stranded in a snowstorm with all the modern conveniences.
For the Birch family, it's an ordeal in claustrophobia. Sexagenarians Andrew
and Emma, who have drifted apart, will have their adult daughters Olivia and
Phoebe both home for the holidays, but no one seems to be looking forward to it.
This is in part because Olivia is back from Liberia where she has been working
with people afflicted with the Haag virus (think Ebola) and she is under a seven
day voluntary quarantine. Which means the family must be quarantined, too. It's
also in part due to the fact that the holidays will be spent at Weyfield Hall,
Emma's spacious but drafty childhood home, which has seen better days and Emma
steadfastly refuses any renovations. Andrew has never felt comfortable there and
Olive is especially uncomfortable with its amenities after months of deprivation
The biggest problem, though, is that almost everyone has at least one huge
secret. Meet the Birches:
Emma, the matriarch. She sacrificed whatever career aspirations she might
have had to raise their children and married beneath her station in the eyes of
her parents. She recently received a worrying medical diagnosis and has decided
to keep that news to herself until after the holidays. Only her best friend and
a total stranger she met at the airport know. She believes it would cast a cloud
over their festivities, and there's nothing anyone can do about it until the New
Andrew, the patriarch. A former war correspondent who covered Lebanon many
decades ago. After the birth of their second daughter, Emma compelled him to
give up his dangerous career. Since then, he's been writing snarky restaurant
reviews. A one-night stand during his Lebanese days produced a son that he
didn't know anything about until recently. He's uncertain how to respond to the
young man's email or how to broach the news to his family, so he does nothing,
hoping the issue will resolve on its own.
Olive, 32, the older daughter, a doctor. Though neither she nor her father
would admit it, they are very much alike. She's adventurous and has a strong
social and moral conscience that has taken her far afield over the years. While
in Liberia, she broke protocols and had a physical relationship with another
doctor, potentially exposing herself to the Haag virus. She isn't ready to tell
her family about this burgeoning relationship, and is devastated when she learns
that Sean has been infected with Haag.
Phoebe, 28, does something involving reality television. More than a little
spoiled and rarely serious about much, she is her father's favorite, often
joining him on his restaurant visits. She still lives with her parents, although
she has recently gotten engaged to her long-time boyfriend, George, and is
immersing herself in the world of wedding preparations.
Two other characters play a large part in the proceedings. First, there's
George, the new fiancÚ. He comes from a good family, has a good education, but
there's something not quite right in the relationship and the elder Birches
aren't terribly happy he'll be their son-in-law, although they never voice this
opinion. And then there's Jesse, Andrew's heretofore unknown son, a gay vegan
documentary film maker who was raised in America. He's taken a huge gamble in
going to Norfolk, England, hoping to meet his father without having any response
to his appeals. Sean, carrying out a very public battle with a deadly illness,
is off-screen for much of the book.
The story is both quaint and fraught with crises as secrets are deliberately
or accidentally revealed. The book relies heavily on coincidence (what are the
odds that Emma would meet Jesse at Heathrow while waiting to pick up Olive, or
that Jesse would end up having drinks with George and his siblings at a pub?),
and the characters all tend to be somewhat self-absorbed and judgmental. It
plays out a bit like a farce, with people stumbling in at exactly the wrong
moment to overhear something being said about them or, like Jesse, literally
stumbling into the quarantine house thanks to a door being ajar.
It's a book mostly about rediscovering one's self and the other members of
the nuclear family. Each of the Birches must acknowledge some hard truths about
themselves and about the state of their relationships with each of the others in
the family. It demonstrates the theory that with four people there are at least
eight different relationships: each individual with each other individual, as
well as parents to offspring and, for example, the strong bond between Andrew
and Phoebe vs Emma and Olvia.
It takes a pressure cooker environment, where no one can flee except into the
omnipresent social media gadgets, to force them to come to terms with each other
and arrive at a new state of being. Best read during a blizzard, preferably with
eggnog or some other tipple at hand and plenty of festive food and music.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2017. All rights reserved.