Day by Michael Cunningham
Published by Random House
Publication date: November 14, 2023
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
A single day revisited for three years is the scaffolding that supports Michael Cunningham’s new novel, Day. The years are significant as they bracket the pandemic and lockdown, but this is not a COVID novel of suspense, terror, or disaster. Rather it’s snapshots of one family at three critical points in their lives as individuals and as a family unit.
Dan and Isabel live in a Brooklyn brownstone that, like many New Yorkers, they’ve outgrown. Their children, Nathan, 10, and Violet, 5, are old enough that they should have their own rooms, but it’s not feasible because Isabel’s younger brother, Robbie, has been living with them until he can afford a place of his own. In Day April 5, 2019 begins like any other for the family—grumpy children not wanting to go to school, Isabel trying to convince herself she still loves her job, Dan playing house husband while trying to invigorate a music career that never really was, and Robbie, posting aspirational photos to a fake Instagram account he created to soothe his bruised ego after a bad breakup.
In 2020 what action there was is severely circumscribed. Prior to the pandemic Robbie left on a vacation to Iceland and now finds himself alone in a small cabin. The rest of the family is dealing with the increasing tension of not just life within four walls, but life without the presence of Robbie, who played a larger part in their dynamics than previously understood. Cunningham uses this restricted environment in Day to go deeply inward. This is an internal novel with the expansiveness coming from the characters’ minds. And while there are conversations about school, money, marital relations, and Violet’s belief that the virus can get in through open windows, the novel’s meaning is more in what’s not being said, then anything found in the characters’ dialogue.
The prospect of introspective fiction, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 election, can be a dicey one. It requires concentration and focus, which for some (me) have been harder to summon when chaos is the new normal. But for Cunningham, his graceful way with words and his ability to slip into the minds of his characters are worth the effort. There’s the indignation of a 5-year-old girl being told she can’t wear what she wants to school juxtaposed with a wife realizing she can’t find herself anymore. Even though another character’s soul-searching feels more like delusion by the novel’s end Day is still a rich exploration of a contemporary family in an unprecedented time.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Random House in exchange for an honest review.*