Cover Image: Dayswork


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Member Reviews

What an odd, interesting, and funny book! I have never read Moby Dick (and I never plan to) but I found myself very entertained by the facts I learned about Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, and even a bit about Emily Dickinson. The writing is very clever and it’s full of dry humor and wit. This type of book will definitely not be for everyone but it really worked for me. 

I loved the narrator and her husband’s dialogue and the picture the authors painted of a family quarantined during the height of the Covid pandemic. The sacrifices made in the narrator’s modern marriage are juxtaposed with Melville and Elizabeth Shaw’s 1800s marriage. 

This is a hard book to describe and review. It’s different than anything else I’ve ever read but I really enjoyed it.
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I really loved The Throwback Special and some similar threads of beautiful and thoughtful writing come through here from Chris Bachelder, but the plot (if you can even say this book has one) is mostly a miss.

I really enjoyed all the Melville scholarship, so that part was a delight. I didn’t mind the concept of the information being relayed by an active scholar in the field either. But the marital issues/quarantine stuff is just a complete miss.

In part I just feel that there’s no call for pandemic literature at the moment. We just lived this. It was terrible. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be interested in reliving it through fiction and I certainly don’t want to do it right now. There are plenty of other more interesting ways to create a feeling of isolation and subsequent reckonings. 

But the real problem is the book’s messy attempt to take both the pandemic isolation and the Melville research and weave them in through whatever issues are going on in the narrator’s marriage. What exactly these issues are is never exactly defined in any tangible way. But mostly it’s just a boring rendition of a literary theme that isn’t especially interesting even when it’s better articulated or better tied to other parts of the plot than it is here.

The book is kind of worth reading for the interesting Melville scholarship, but it’s a really disappointing comedown from the flawlessly plotted and beautifully written Throwback Special. Read that instead.
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I would have liked this book more had the synopsis not primed me for a "midlife reckoning with her own marriage & ambition." That, on the surface, barely exists in the book. Perhaps it's more present in subtext, but readers should go in knowing this book is asking them to pull a great deal of implied information and emotion from factoids about Melville and his biographers. 

As it was, I mostly came away wanting to revisit Melville's work and a biography of his. 

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
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I wasn't sure what to expect from Dayswork as someone who has never read Moby Dick and didn't know a lot about Melville. It turned out to be a meditative, beautiful, thought-provoking, and - yes - instructive read. There's so much to enjoy here for anyone interested in the writing process and creative life. And I imagine if you were already a Melville fan, it would be even more engaging. 

Dayswork is a "quiet" read in the best possible way. Its spare, evocative language leaves room for the mind and heart to roam, and I hope it will find its way to many, many readers. 

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read a digital ARC in advance of publication in exchange for my honest review.
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I really really love this book! This story is set during the pandemic and is about a woman researching Melville and discussing her findings with her husband. There is a lot of references and discovery to Moby Dick and other brilliant literature. This book was full of beautiful writing, intriguing trivia, and well-written characters.
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What a delightful journey this novel took me on!

It was like a room with many doors, the doors leading to more rooms with more doors, and yet taking one back to where one started. The narrative segues into asides, sharing the stories of Melville admirers and biographers. One such tangent is about Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick, which is also a story about marriage.

Hardwick wrote that Melville was “given to violence in the household,” based on family stories and letters. After his death, his wife promoted his work and pressed for reissuing of the books, which fed a consequent “Melville Revival.”

We realize how elusive Melville is–can we really know him? Even his New York Times death notice called him “Hiram Melville,” and he was “Norman Melville” on a crew list.

His Moby Dick is extolled as an eloquent masterpiece, inspirational, life-changing. “How much that man makes you love him!” (Hart Crane) “Herman Melville is a god.” (Maurice Sendak) And by others, particularly high school students, as a big snooze.

The story is set during the pandemic, with a woman researching Melville and discussing her findings with her husband.

There is much about Melville’s love for Nathaniel Hawthorne, famed for his beauty, his visits documented by Sarah Peabody Hawthorne, who noted his linen was dirty, and their son Julian, who loved Melville.

Melville’s early novels sold well, but his long poem Clarel and Moby Dick were failures. He worked for nineteen years as a customs inspector.

The first Melville I read was a volume that included Typee and Omoo that I found on my father’s bookshelf when I was a teen. I read Moby Dick as a young woman–skipping the Cetacea and whaling chapters, and then finally read it in whole it in middle age when our son read it in high school. In between, I read Billy Bud and The Confidence Man and Bartleby the Scrivener.

I was charmed when the narrator describes reading an old paperback of Howard’s End–the exact edition I discovered and read and fell in love with. I recalled reading Lowell’s Life Studies and Day by Day and Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, sad that my copies were sacrificed in one of my dozen moves. But I have Moby Dick still, and this has inspired me to revisit it, to see how I experience it in my senior years.

Thanks to the publisher for a free book.
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Wonderful, wonderful book. Full of great writing, interesting trivia about writing and it’s really, really funny. 

If you’re on this web site, you should be reading this book. It’s about creativity, marriage, marriage amongst creative people, Melville, Hawthorne etc. 

I loved it.
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