“Day” unfolds in three acts, each set on a single day in April over three successive years. The novel opens on the morning of April 5, 2019, when Isabel, who works at a magazine, and her husband, Dan, a washed up rock singer turned stay-at-home dad, struggle to get their two children to school. Amid the daily chaos, Isabel’s brother, Robbie, a teacher who lives with them and is secretly in love with Dan, holds the household together.
The second section begins in the afternoon on April 5, 2020, as the pandemic paralyzes New York City. Isabel and Dan are quarantined at home with their two children, a confinement that causes their already fraying marriage to unravel further. Isabel sits alone on the stairs, scrolling through her phone; Dan posts videos of his songs on YouTube and develops a rabid online fan base. Their 6-year-old daughter, Violet, is terrified that the virus will float in through the windows. Robbie, who has quit his teaching job, gets stranded in Iceland alone in a cabin, where he maintains a fake Instagram persona of a man named Wolfe.
The final act, set on the evening of April 5, 2021, takes place upstate, in a dilapidated country home outside of the city, where Isabel lives. The family is shattered by grief and loss that is both particular to their clan, but also feels omnipresent.
“He’s written one of, if not the, best novels about the pandemic that I’ve encountered, but it’s also a novel about everyday life,” said the writer Susan Choi, a close friend of Cunningham’s. “What he did with the idea of a day, and taking a day from each of those particular years, reflects how all of us as a planet are still trying to process those three years in our lives.”