Describing Sixty-Seven Days as a romance doesn’t do this book justice. Yvonne Weldon’s protagonist, Evie, is of Wiradjuri heritage, living the complex life of a young Indigenous woman in Redfern in the last decade of the 20th century. Bog-standard basic genre romances are claustrophobic, always about only two people negotiating a game of relationship chess that gets them into bed and then into an endless ether of presumably happy-ever-bonking-after.
Actually, genre romance is less like chess than a game of snap – which means that Sixty-Seven Days is a multidimensional chess game of couples, parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, ancestors, totems and contemporary urban Indigenous politics. Slithering through the story is a trauma that Evie carries in secret.
Evie, though young, brings more than an intensely observed personal point of view to the story; her ancestral background is always there, ready to break into the narrative with flashes of spiritual insight that ground all her experiences. As the story begins, she meets James, the lover, and there is no cliched conflict between them, only a genuine rapture and feeling of rightness.
No demon lover here: only tenderness and a refreshing recognition that Weldon has managed to write one of the least-explored phenomena in all fiction: the edgy challenge of depicting human love and joy with intimacy and respect, open-hearted trust and sensuous delight, without clinical grossness or exploitation – and all with neither mawkishness nor cynicism. Weldon’s demons are never lovers: her lovers are recognisable, relatable and humane, and the demon here elicits disgust rather than fetishistic fascination.
Weldon, an independent councillor for the City of Sydney, manages to surprise us as she navigates Evie through a complex process of relationships. Her heritage and culture imbue the entire telling of the story; each of the two lovers brings the embedded weight of culture and deep significance to the relationship. Evie feels anxiety at every stage: will James be able to cope with her life, her family?
She is thoroughly grounded in her Wiradjuri network of relationships; despite her grandfather being stolen from his family as a little child, she can feel the strength of their ancestry and culture stretching over aeons. She notes that when he was alive, “there was no room for dishonesty lurking in the darkness. If there was something … not in line with the cultural and spiritual space of the family home, it was dealt with.”
After his death, she is not safe. She never names the man who harmed her, a trusted partner of her aunt: he is “the predator”, the “slimy bastard” who “slithered further into our lives”. She tries to tell another aunt but is not helped; the man is too important to the community to be impeached. Evie is left feeling smirched and damaged while the man continues to be feted as a prominent citizen.
During the 67 days of the title, many things happen: her beloved grandmother dies, and the family deals with the bereavement in the way of their contemporary reality. In this evocation of their culture, Christianity is in tandem with the older system of belief that never entirely goes away.
Her real healing comes from her relationship with James and the way that the two lovers’ deep culture enfolds them as they go on an exploratory journey through Country together.
Images that Weldon gives us stay in the memory: the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains (and the fourth one that she says they don’t mention); a stand of five trees near Bathurst marking the battleground where Aboriginal leader Windradyne led a resistance; a strange but spiritually powerful circle of kangaroos that the lovers see on their way to Narrandera.
Dreams and spirits of the Dreamtime work hard here, but the writing is clear and compelling. It should be on every book club’s list.