book cover of Dayswork


A novel by

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.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Praise for this book

"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

"A love letter to literature." - Alexander Chee

"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." - Jess Walter

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