Day by Michael Cunningham [8/10]

Petulance is the consequence of arrogance, something I brought to my reading of Day, the eighth novel by Michael Cunningham. Exasperated by films, for example, that seem to lack any appreciation for Modern Scriptwriting 101, I can find myself muttering, “But nothing happens…” This was the exact phrase in mind halfway through Day, a deceptively “simple” novel about seven characters: Robbie, an unachieving teacher living in the Brooklyn attic of his sister Isabel and filling out the imaginary life of his Instagram avatar Wolfe; Isabel, professional but unsatisfied, unhappy with marriage; Dan, her husband, a handsome ex-minor-rock star; Nathan, their sensitive ten-year-old son; Violet, their imaginative five-year-old daughter; an artist brother and his wife. We spend time in their various heads on April 5, 2019, then amidst pandemic lockdown on April 5, 2020; and finally in post-pandemic, changed circumstances on April 5, 2021. Cunningham’s writing is almost conversationally immersive, deep inside the characters’ chattering minds. Conventional plot action is limited, hence my readerly griping midway through the book. Yet, in the second half, something magical occurred: I found myself “knowing” the characters in a way that suggests I’ll remember them, in quite some detail, long after more dramatic novels fade from memory. By the time of the minor climax, I was admiring the author’s consummate characterization skills and stagehand plotting, and, more importantly, much moved. Day, I realized, is a welcome book reminding us of the wondrous variety in the human race. Recommended.

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