45 pages 1 hour read

Tia Williams

A Love Song for Ricki Wilde

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2024

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Summary and Study Guide


A Love Song for Ricki Wilde (2024) is a genre-blending adult novel by American author Tia Williams that combines elements of contemporary romance, historical fiction, and fantasy. The novel pays homage to the rich history of Harlem and conveys its glamour and romanticism through a time-transcending love story between Ricki Wilde and Ezra Walker.

Williams’s work has been critically acclaimed. Her debut, The Accidental Diva (2004), received positive reviews in The New York Times and Cosmopolitan. The Perfect Find (2016) won the African American Literary Award for Best Fiction and was adapted into a Netflix film. Seven Days in June (2021) became a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, was a Reese’s Book Club pick, and will be adapted for TV.

Williams drew on her career as a magazine beauty editor and her special interest in the Harlem Renaissance for A Love Song for Ricki Wilde: Her fashion expertise can be seen in the thrift-obsessed Ricki Wilde; and her historical bent is evident in the novel’s special attention to the lasting footprint of the 1920s on modern Harlem.

This guide refers to the eBook edition published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, in 2024.

Content Warning: The source material features mentions of racism, racial violence, lynchings, suicide, and drug addiction.

Plot Summary

In the present, 28-year-old Ricki Wilde is the youngest daughter of the Wilde family, which owns the Wilde Funeral Homes. She is constantly belittled for her eccentricities, which include social awkwardness and her eye for thrifted fashion. While her family wants her to excel in the family business, Ricki wishes to follow her dreams and become a flower shop owner in New York City. At a dinner party, Ricki’s proposed business plan for Wilde Things is met with disapproval. That week, during a shift at her family’s funeral home company, Ricki meets Ms. Della Bennett—a 96-year-old woman whose husband has recently passed away. Della loves Ricki’s shop idea and offers to rent out the abandoned ground floor of her Harlem brownstone in exchange for weekly tea times.

A week and a half later, Ricki excitedly moves to Harlem. She renovates the apartment and admires the neighborhood’s rich culture stemming from the long-ago Harlem Renaissance era. However, Ricki becomes incredibly lonely as she fails to make friends. She casually dates handyman and local portrait artist Ali, and allows him to paint a nude portrait of her. She also meets former child actor Tuesday Rowe, and the two become immediate friends. While December is an amazing month for business, Ricki’s sales tank after New Year’s. To calm herself, Ricki visits a community garden, where she meets Ezra Walker near the mysterious night-blooming jasmines that are impossibly blooming in the winter.

Ricki realizes that Ali has been sleeping with other women and painting nudes of them as well—a discovery that ends their relationship. A mysterious woman purchases the painting of Ricki for an outrageous price, claiming it is for her boss, and gives Ricki a phone number, but no one answers the phone when Ricki calls.

At the community garden, Ricki sees Ezra once again. Though they hit it off, Ezra seems terrified of pursuing a relationship with her and warns her away.

As Ricki continues to struggle selling flowers, she takes her unsold bouquets to Old Harlem sites to commemorate Harlem Renaissance history. When these bouquets go viral on Instagram, Ricki is hired by a celebrity makeup artist to be the florist for his wedding—a wedding where Ezra is playing piano. Ezra is charmed by her awkwardness and they share a mystical bond. Still, he warns Ricki again to stay away.

Della has a terminal cancer diagnosis that she keeps secret from Ricki, who views Della as a grandmother figure. Della encourages Ricki to take chances, live life to the fullest, and leave a mark on the world.

The novel flashes back to Ezra’s childhood. Born in 1900 to sharecroppers in Fallon, South Carolina, Ezra was naturally gifted at piano. After serving in World War I, Ezra returned home to Red Summer—his entire family was burned to death in church by the Ku Klux Klan. His cousin, Sonny, escaped to Harlem, where he had a successful music career; eventually, he convinced Ezra to move north as well. Ezra began playing at piano contests with his idols—such as James Johnson and Bessie Smith—and soon had a standing gig at the Eden Lounge. However, while Ezra’s music career took off, Sonny developed drug use disorder and died of an overdose.

Ezra began dating a dancer and voodoo practitioner named Felice Fabienne. On February 29, 1928, during a rent party at the same brownstone that would become Della’s and Ricki’s home, Ezra brought Felice up to the roof and presented her with an expensive bracelet. Angered that he wasn’t proposing, Felice cursed Ezra to live forever with the face of his true love haunting his mind; promising that his true love would also die by suicide, Felice jumped off the roof to her death. For years, Ezra tested his immortality in increasingly grotesque ways, traveled the world, and influenced musicians. On every February 29 since, he has dreamed of Ricki’s face and heard the discordant notes of a piano song.

In the present, Ezra meets with his life coach, another immortal named Dr. Arroyo-Abril, who advises him to tell Ricki about his predicament. Ezra asks Ricki to spend a day together so he can explain. They have brunch, thrift shop, and talk music before ending the night at Ricki’s place. Ezra plays her the song she inspired, and they have sex. The next morning, Ezra tells her about his curse and Ricki kicks him out of her apartment while she digests the information.

At their next tea time, Della tells Ricki the history of her brownstone and admits that she is Felice Fabienne’s abandoned daughter. Ricki is convinced that Ezra is telling the truth. Ricki and Ezra reconnect and visit many spiritual specialists for solutions, since Ricki is destined to die in two weeks. Ricki tells Tuesday and Della about Ezra, Felice, and the curse, and while Tuesday is surprisingly receptive to the information, Della pushes Ricki away. From Eva Mercy—a hoodoo and voodoo expert—Ricki learns that to save her life, a sacrifice must be made. Unwilling to do so, she resigns herself to her fate.

Ricki and Ezra cram in as many experiences as possible during Ricki’s remaining days. Ezra convinces Ricki to do an interview about Wilde Things that goes viral. As a result, her sisters to pay her a visit. When Ezra cooks dinner for the women and they spend it insulting Ricki, he defends her, giving Ricki the confidence to kick them out. Della, who’s been avoiding Ricki, now invites Ezra and Ricki to lunch. During the meal, Della forgives her mother.

On February 28, Ricki and Ezra take drastic measures to sleep through midnight instead of being awake to witness her death. Yet, Ricki wakes alive and Ezra wakes mortal the next morning. When they rush to tell Della, they learn that she’s taken a half bottle of morphine and died, leaving a note for them that proves she sacrificed her life to break their curse.

Eventually, Ezra and Ricki marry and have four children.

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Related Titles

By Tia Williams