Michael Cunningham introduces his first novel in a decade

Day is, essentially, a story about love, in many forms. It’s a story about families of many kinds, from the traditional to the unorthodox. And it’s a story about survival, in both the literal and emotional sense, during a time when the world was changed, forever.

It’s my first novel in ten years.

“Fiction is always, first and foremost, about human beings.”

Michael Cunningham

I don’t imagine anyone is particularly eager to hear yet another writer talk about how difficult it is to be a writer. I’ll confine myself to this. I wanted to write a contemporary novel. The world as we find it now is so bizarrely composed of terror and hope, of heroism and tyranny, that I couldn’t picture myself writing about our world at any other point in its ongoing history. It’s nearly impossible, however, to use the word ‘contemporary’ without invoking the pandemic.

I could not, on one hand, write a story that ignored the pandemic. But neither did I want to write a story about the pandemic. Fiction is always, first and foremost, about human beings. But how exactly do you focus on individual human beings during a period that killed seven million, and profoundly altered the lives of every person on the planet?

Day moves, in three sections, from the period just before the pandemic, to living – or not living – through the pandemic itself, to its aftermath. I think of the story as a thread that runs through the pandemic and comes out the other side.

My fundamental objective, in Day, was to write a novel set at a very particular, perilous time while remaining focused on the timeless aspects of life as lived: how we love or fail to love, how we want that which eludes us, how we sometimes find joy or sorrow, at the moments we least expected it… the list goes on.

In this novel, the world has gone mad but the human vagaries remain essentially sane, humanly sane. It includes a child determined to rescue the endangered world, a sperm donor who realises, belatedly, that he wants to be an actual father to the child he agreed simply to help engender, and a man whose search for a love of his own is thwarted by the fact that he’s intricately in love with his sister and her husband. Along with much else. The pandemic is not, couldn’t be, incidental. But neither is it the heart of the story. More importantly, it’s a story about that which endures. It’s a story about life, which continues to exist, and sometimes even to flourish, in spite of all the odds.

Find out more about Day here:

As the world changes around them, a family weathers the storms of growing up, growing older, falling in and out of love, losing the things that are most precious – and learning to go on.

April 5th, 2019: In a cozy brownstone in Brooklyn, the veneer of domestic bliss is beginning to crack. Dan and Isabel, troubled husband and wife, are both a little bit in love with Isabel’s younger brother, Robbie. Robbie, wayward soul of the family, who still lives in the attic loft; Robbie, who, trying to get over his most recent boyfriend, has created a glamorous avatar online; Robbie, who now has to move out of the house – and whose departure threatens to break the family apart. And then there is Nathan, age ten, taking his first uncertain steps toward independence, while Violet, five, does her best not to notice the growing rift between her parents.

April 5th, 2020: As the world goes into lockdown the brownstone is feeling more like a prison. Violet is terrified of leaving the windows open, obsessed with keeping her family safe. Isabel and Dan circle each other warily, communicating mostly in veiled jabs and frustrated sighs. And beloved Robbie is stranded in Iceland, alone in a mountain cabin with nothing but his thoughts – and his secret Instagram life – for company.

April 5th, 2021: Emerging from the worst of the crisis, the family comes together to reckon with a new, very different reality – with what they’ve learned, what they’ve lost, and how they might go on.

From the brilliant mind of Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham, Day is a searing, exquisitely crafted meditation on love and loss, and the struggles and limitations of family life – how to live together and apart, and maybe even escape the marriage plot entirely.

Out 14 Nov 2023



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