A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2023 • A Washington Post Notable Book of 2023
A startlingly original, incantatory novel about marriage, mortality, and making art.
In the endless days of the pandemic, a woman spends her time sorting fact from fiction in the life and work of Herman Melville. As she delves into Melville’s impulsive purchase of a Massachusetts farmhouse, his fevered revision of Moby-Dick there, his intense friendship with neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne, and his troubled and troubling marriage to Elizabeth Shaw, she becomes increasingly obsessed by what his devotion to his art reveals about cost, worth, and debt. Her preoccupation both deepens and expands, and her days’ work extends outward to an orbiting cast of Melvillean questers and fanatics, as well as to biographers and writers—among them Elizabeth Hardwick and Robert Lowell—whose lives resonate with Melville’s. As she pulls these distant figures close, her quarantine quest ultimately becomes a midlife reckoning with her own marriage and ambition.
Absorbing, charming, and intimate, Dayswork considers the blurry lines between life and literature, the slippage between what happens and what gets recorded, and the ways we locate ourselves in the lives of others. In wry, epigrammatic prose, Chris Bachelder and Jennifer Habel have crafted an exquisite and daring novel.
About the Author
Chris Bachelder is the author of four novels, including The Throwback Special, a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Terry Southern Prize for Humor. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Jennifer Habel is the author of the poetry collections Good Reason and The Book of Jane, which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Weird and wonderful, a novel in verse that immediately casts a spell and keeps it going until the last little missive. It’s the kind of book you miss as soon as it’s over, its sway and power nearly as mysterious and unlikely as that of a leviathan tome about whaling…[I]t brings to mind Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own as much as Moby-Dick.
— Chris Vognar - Boston Globe
A clever mash-up of a fictionalized memoir, a meditation on a literary forebear, and a portrait of a marriage…Dayswork is a supremely literate achievement that wears its erudition lightly.
— Heller McAlpin - Wall Street Journal
A brief, illuminating book about Melville and marriage…[T]he words seem to bob on a sea of blank white pages, the ideas come together elegantly and with a deadpan timing. — Christine Smallwood - Washington Post
A probing story about ambition, art and marriage. — New York Times
Bachelder and Habel have created a curious, heady cocktail of a quarantine novel that feels like a buoyant literary memoir, a surprising and exhilarating inquiry into the pleasures and pitfalls of literature, obsession, collaboration, and love, all relayed with piquant wit and thrilling insight. — Donna Seaman - Booklist (starred review)
A remarkable, unusually rewarding work. — Kirkus Reviews (starred)
A love letter to literature. — Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Dayswork is a wonder. I cannot think of another book, another reading experience, entirely like this one. It is suffused with the pleasures of reading, of immersion, of companionship in all its forms.
— Katie Kitamura, author of Intimacies
How to describe this deeply moving and entirely original book Dayswork is at once a portrait of a marriage, a meditation on art and ambition, a pandemic novel, a middle-age comedy, a brilliant collage of Herman Melville, and a tour de force of collaborative writing. Above all, it is a love story. Out of the most difficult times and unlikely materials, Chris Bachelder and Jennifer Habel have created something that can only be described as extraordinary.
— Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, author of Madeleine is Sleeping
I was equally charmed and fascinated by Dayswork, this slender but capacious book about marriage and solitude, about Melville and Hawthorne, about literature and obsession and whether they might not be the same thing. Wry, intimate, and wholly original, the novel surprised me and edified me with every page I eagerly turned.