Before reading a book, I try to go in with an open mind and without judgments. “Try” being the operative word. Because sometimes, I hear about a premise and my eyes roll to the back of my head. No way, I think, no way in hell is this going to work. I shouldn’t even try to read this book because it won’t succeed and I’ll regret even trying.
And when I heard about the premise for One Day to Fall by Therese Beharrie — a 72,000 word South African-set romance that takes place in one day — my eyes rolled to the back of my head. No way, I thought, no way in hell is this going to work. I shouldn’t even try to read this book because it won’t succeed and I’ll regret even trying.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Reader, I was wrong. One Day to Fall is a marvel and a feat of extraordinary accomplishment. Every single qualm I had — how will I believe in their HEA if they only interact for one day? How much can possibly happen in one day? — slowly vanished the more I read. Even after finishing the novel, I’m in a state of utter disbelief. How on earth did I love that? I don’t know if I have an answer but I do believe that some of the most wonderful things in life are inexplicable, and this might be one of them.
CW/TW: parental diagnosis of dementia, parental death due to brain tumor, absentee/strained relationship with parent, grief from parental illness/death, discussion of parental alcoholism
The premise is simple: Sophia is waiting impatiently in the hospital with her mother and younger sister Zoey, while her older sister Angie is in labor. She doesn’t want to be there — Angie isn’t even close to giving birth and there are tense family dynamics at play — and is desperate to find an escape. At the same hospital, a doctor informs Parker Jones that his mother, a victim of a recent car accident, has been diagnosed with dementia. Parker listens to the diagnosis and walks out of the room, where he runs — and falls — into Sophia. After snarking and getting off to a bad-tempered start, they run into each other again when Sophia opens the back door of Parker’s off-duty taxi in the parking lot.
It seems like fate’s idea of a joke but she begs him to take her to The Company Garden, setting the events of the novel into play. They both need to escape from their lives desperately, just for one day. To go the gardens. To go to the beach. To be intimate. And so they’ll use each other for a one day distraction and then move on with their lives. Good plan, right? After all, how much can happen in one day?
Hahahaha. These poor fools have no idea what’s coming for them. I’d be more sympathetic, only it was delightfully fun to watch Sophie and Parker crash into feelings. And if you can’t cackle evilly at fictional characters, then who can you cackle at?
I’ve never read a book like One Day to Fall before, but the closest analogy I can come to is a bottle episode in television. Like the “The Box” from Brooklyn 99 or “The One Where No One’s Ready” from Friends, a bottle episode is stripped down to its essentials: one setting (often a small room) and a limited number of characters, which allows the episode to focus on dialogue and characterization. One Day to Fall isn’t exactly like a bottle episode — they do leave the hospital and visit different locations — but it has the same impact as one. There are no unnecessary frills; dialogue and characterization are given the utmost importance. And while I didn’t do a quantitative measurement, it certainly felt like the ratio of “dialogue words: non-dialogue words” was much higher than the ratio in the average romance novel. To be honest, I barely remember where they went (the beach?) because the location isn’t important. They could have been anywhere; what I remember are the words spoken between them.
Therese Beharrie is a stunningly talented writer because at no point during any of this did the book feel wrong. It’s something I’ve never read before, so I was at least expecting to feel some hesitation or discomfort. Nope. I was debating how to categorize this book when it struck me: One Day to Fall is a primordial romance novel. Did I just invent that term? Yep. In my defense, I couldn’t find a proper term so I had to make one up!
To me, a primordial romance novel is a romance stripped down to its core: nothing but protagonists — the most important part of the romance — matter. I’m taking some liberties with this definition with One Day to Fall because clearly some of the other characters do matter. Sophia’s main conflict with her family arises from 1) resentment when her older sister Angie abandons the family after their father dies, causing Sophia to step up and save everything and 2) bitterness that her family views her as meaner/harsher than Angie. Parker is dealing with the aftermath of his mother’s diagnosis and his strained relationship with his father.
Sophia and Parker’s families obviously matter to the book, but those characters aren’t that present in the novel. While they are physically present for a few scenes, their importance is primarily explored through Sophia and Parker’s conversations with each other. They have complicated pasts and relationships with their families, and almost all of it is gleaned through dialogue between Sophia and Parker. Angie, a source of conflict in Sophia’s life, doesn’t even show up until the very end for one scene. It’s this dependence on the two MCs that makes me label One Day to Fall a primordial romance novel (if you think of a better name, let me know! I’m open to workshopping ideas).
Ed. note: I suggest ed“Before Sunrise” romance, though the movie is more ambiguous in its ending, despite the sequels.
The laser focus on the protagonists contributed to my faith that this couple will survive the odds and make their relationship work forever. The premise still seems ridiculous — how can I believe in the HEA/HFN after twenty-four hours? The genius of One Day to Fall is that it doesn’t magically solve all of Sophia and Parker’s conflicts in one day. They still have problems to face: Parker dealing with his mother’s diagnosis, Sophia repairing her relationship with her sisters, and both of them slowly learning to trust and rely on each other. But while the events of the book don’t show the perfect resolution to all these problems, it shows that the protagonists have the emotional maturity and tools to work through anything. Regardless of how difficult things might get in the future, I’m confident that Sophia and Parker have healthy communication patterns and will make the best of it. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s an epilogue showing their happiness after six months!
I could go on and on about all the things I loved about this book. How Sophia’s snarky and sometimes mean (I say “mean” with the highest of compliments) humor made me bend over laughing. How delighted I was with the assurance of a child-free HEA (both Sophia and Parker are emphatic about their desire not to have children). But I want you to stop reading this and one-click this book, so I’ll stop rambling now. One Day to Fall is a delight and a marvel, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a romance novel to escape into.