Fourteen Days: A Novel

Image of Fourteen Days: A Collaborative Novel
Release Date: 
February 6, 2024
Reviewed by: 

Fourteen Days: A Novel operates from an irresistible premise: trot out literary luminaries of our age, and mash them together in a rollicking collection of shared stories.”

Fourteen Days operates from an irresistible premise: trot out literary luminaries of our age, and mash them together in a rollicking collection of shared stories. Taking its cue from Bocaccio’s The Decameron, Fourteen Days situates itself in a Bowery tenement dwelling during the height of COVID lockdowns in the spring of 2020, as a diverse crew of residents seek refuge on the building’s rooftop in the evenings, passing the time with banter, bickering, and storytelling. As in The Decameron, every resident has an unusual anecdote or two to tell, with each tale written by one of the book’s many writers, including Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, John Grisham, and Celeste Ng, just to name a few.

Based on that outline (and the starry list of three dozen authors who contributed), one would expect Fourteen Days to be a kaleidoscopic collision of authorial voices and tones. Cannily, the book buries information about the authors and which bits they wrote in the appendix; half of the fun comes from guessing who wrote what. In some cases, it’s not too difficult to figure out—Weike Wang contributes a piece about angst-ridden Chinese immigrants, for example—while other entries find their authors in a more playful mood than usual, as is the case with Emma (The Room) Donoghue’s tale, which flirts with a tragic event only to pull back to happy reminiscence.

Fourteen Days makes for a breezy read as it covers a multitude of genres—tragedies, comedies, ghost stories, romances, revenge thrillers—even as it makes half-hearted gestures toward a grand statement about the multicultural, multiethnic ties that loosely bind America together. Each character may be labeled with a near-dismissive moniker, such as “Vinegar,” “Florida,” “Hello Kitty,” or “Eurovision,” but in telling their own stories, they all argue for the validity of their own existence and unique point of view.

What organizing presence there is to the whole affair comes courtesy of Yessie, the wary building superintendent who documents each yarn she hears even as she hoards secrets of her own. Her framing narration provides grim daily statistics about the rising death toll and sardonic observations about each of the residents, nearly all of whom have a bone to pick over the current state of the country, not to mention a certain orange-haired President.

How the reader is meant to feel about all this is a more perplexing matter. Those who lean right will likely be galled by much of the rhetoric on display, but oftentimes the authors themselves seem to view the residents through a bemused lens, presenting them as near-parodies of left-coast liberals and loudmouthed, downtrodden minorities. Which may be the point: During a time of crisis, cooler heads are nowhere to be found.

In its spiraling one-story-after-another approach, Fourteen Days is never dull, and there’s no disputing the laudable intent behind the project. But a faint whiff of self-congratulation soon settles over the proceedings, as one mildly interesting tale leads to another. Many read like third-person narratives shoehorned into a first-person storytelling perspective, and most of the authors tamp down their unique quirks in order to ensure a smooth narrative flow. What’s truly missing is a sense that there’s a unifying raison d'être behind it all, besides shooting off literary fireworks.

Not that fireworks don’t make for a good show, as some of the tales rise above the others and stick to memory. Alice Randall chronicles the life of a Black pistol-packing country singer from Texas, her character’s shifting fortunes and relations with her family and lovers rendered with down-home forthrightness and emotional precision. Atwood supplies a touch of the surreal and the supernatural via an interloper who explains her history as a descendent of spiders. A heartwarming story from C.J. Lyons about a near-death experience leading to true love is revealed to be falsified, only to linger in the minds of the listeners as a fiction that’s preferable to the truth.

Speaking of truth, the line between fantasy and reality is crossed for good by Fourteen Days’ conclusion via a final Twilight Zone-style twist that reorganizes perceptions of what’s really going on, even if it doesn’t retroactively alter one’s reactions to previous tales overmuch. If one hunts for thematic motifs that shadow each story, one could piece together a semi-thesis about death and loss, as nearly every tale concerns itself with people long gone, soon to be gone, or simply vanished, but ultimately, Fourteen Days isn’t that preoccupied with penetrating insights. It’s best read as a smorgasbord of surface pleasures, where the telling is all, and each story vanishes into the ether almost as soon as it’s told, much like fast food being forgotten a few hours after being served.