In a podcast interview, Gregory explains that he used John Irving’s early novels (Hotel New Hampshire, The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany) as models. For each character, he wanted to be sure "that the emotions were all real," and to "get the heart of it right," but he also wanted the story to end like one of Shakespeare’s plays, where all of the story threads come together in the final act—with everyone milling about the stage, doors slamming, and action erupting everywhere. To get us to that point, Gregory has his main characters take turns telling the story from their separate perspectives, flashing back and forth from past to present—and even to the future (in Buddy’s chapters). The story begins in the present—June 1995—and ends on Labor Day, which may or may not be the day the world ends for one or more (or all) or the Telemachus family.
In the first four chapters, Matty, Teddy, Irene, and Frankie introduce themselves and submerge us in their complicated lives. In July, we meet Buddy, who lives in a world in which past, present, and future time constantly swirl and mix in his mind. Buddy knows that something terrible is going to happen on Labor Day (aka Zap Day), and it’s up to him to save as many lives as possible.