A Steamy Update on a Shakespearean Classic
Review: Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
I don’t read romance. I have nothing against the genre — honest! — it just isn’t my natural preference zone. That said, what I’ve read I’ve largely liked. Susan Carroll has a fantastic fantasy/historical fiction/romance saga that I devoured in high school. And though Sophie Kinsella isn’t technically “romance,” she’s certainly rom com, and I count her amongst my favorite authors. The same is true for Rainbow Rowell, who writes a meet-cute like no one else. But still, my true forays into romance are limited, and thus this review is, I’m sure, replete with half-truths and accidental missteps.
Before I say anything negative: I liked Seven Days in June. I can’t remember what prompted me to pick it up (likely, it was a book podcast), but I’m glad to have read it.
It was a frothy and fun novel, and yet Williams also managed to make it feel less like cotton candy (absolutely no redeeming nutritional value) and more like kettle corn (it’s junk food, yes, but I can make the argument that it’s “healthy” junk food).
Eva Mercy, the protagonist, is a Black writer who lives in Brooklyn with her tween daughter, Audre. She is known for her bestselling vampire/witch erotica series, the first installment of which she wrote at age 19. Shane Hall is a Black literary fiction writer with Robert Pattinson smolder who lives a nomadic off-Instagram lifestyle, much to the disappointment of his very large fanbase. Both Eva and Shane have their demons. Eva suffers from a secret invisible chronic illness. Shane is in recovery from a very serious addiction. Both of them are still, 15 years later, reeling from an intense seven-day love affair they had in high school — and both of them have been using their books to communicate to one another over the transom. When Shane shows up, unexpected and uninvited, to a book panel Eva is sitting on, he upends both their lives (and the book world, to boot).
Seven Days does many things well. The plot is fairly complex, but also, to Williams’ credit, very easy to follow. The story is told in dual narratives (Eva’s and Shane’s) and dual time frames (seven days in June 2004 and seven days in June 2019), but I can’t imagine any reader ever feeling lost or confused. The characters are visceral and likable, despite being profoundly flawed. Both Eva and Shane behave badly, but Williams doesn’t glamorize it or excuse it. They feel like real people, like people I believe exist in the real world. Most importantly, there are accurate portrayals of chronic illness. Eva suffers from debilitating migraines and Williams takes pains (pun intended) to make Eva’s experience unsexy.
Chronic illness is not sexy. It does not make you stronger. Williams does not pretend that it is or that it does.
Eva’s disability kicks her ass, ruins her life daily, and, by the end of the novel, she has not been given (and will not get) a reprieve. I cannot articulate how profoundly refreshing and rare that is — and for that alone, Seven Days rocketed to an immovable at-least-3-star read for me.
On the negative side, though Eva and Shane are far from two-dimensional characters, their love story is nonetheless plagued by common tropes and stereotypes. They fall in love in seven days, to start. And their love is the kind of all-consuming, life-altering, Romeo-and-Juliet love that really only exists in fiction. They are, quite literally, willing to die for one another. Granted, during their first seven-day tryst, they are 17-year-olds, and teenagers aren’t known for being level-headed. Still, I would have loved it if there had been much more development of the 2004 storyline. I’m willing to believe love can happen quickly! But I can’t fully buy in without adequate foundational build-up. And Seven Days is a page-turner! It clocks in at 336 pages, but I would have absolutely read 200 pages more without batting an eyelash. Further, I wish the secondary characters had been a tad less formulaic. Audre was a template Precocious Child, and CeCe was a template Female Sidekick. Finally, I’m not sure it was wholly necessary to make Shane such a heartthrob. I have no idea what this says about me, but I wanted him to be significantly less attractive. Do we really need another exceedingly talented stud with unusual-colored eyes, a checkered past, and commitment issues? I would have preferred an average-looking (or, honestly, less-than-average-looking) leading man.
Before closing this review, a note about the sex: It was steamy and well-written and that doesn’t happen nearly enough in fiction, literary or otherwise.
Rating: 3.5 stars
… I’m not lonely, I’m alone. When I’m comatose from writing and mothering, when I’m hurting too badly to cook, talk, or smile, I curl up with alone like a security blanket. Alone doesn’t care that I don’t shave my legs in the winter. Alone never gets disappointed by me…. It’s the best relationship I’ve ever been in.
… books were her kids. They cuddled up with her at night, kept her warm, quieted her thoughts when her marriage seemed thin, her life choices felt pointless, or her job seemed stagnant. At brunch, Belinda had asked if she’d ever felt wild, deep love. What CeCe didn’t know how to say was that she didn’t need it. She was happy not to feel anything super deeply. The top level of life was enough for her, the beginning of the night when there was the buzzing possibility of intrigue and drama, instead of the end when everyone was wasted and weird and dark.
Audre rested her hand on Shane’s shoulder. “Mom feels guilty about who she is. Make her feel happy about herself.”
Shane nodded but kept his mouth shut. Words escaped him.
“She can’t put on lipstick because her hands shake too much from pain,” revealed Audre. “But she put it on today. For you.”
“I hear you,” Shane managed, his words a broken croak. “I get it.”
Wynter K Miller is an editor and writer in California.