A maddening and madcap day in Seattle

Author: Maria Semple

Cover of Maria Semple's Today Will Be DifferentMuch like her splendid Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Semple’s newest novel is a delicious, unforgettable, impeccably written treat that I, for one, could not put down.

Eleanor Flood is at the center of Today Will Be Different and she might remind you of, well, Bernadette. She’s an endearingly frazzled, Seattle-based woman of wit and intelligence. She’s got a rewarding professional career behind her (in this case, in television animation), and now she’s trying to raise her child (in this case, 10-year-old Timby) without losing her marbles.

Like Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Today Will Be Different is not a book to read in bed when you can barely keep your eyes open; you need to be snapped in once you open the front cover, because it’s quick and unconventional and you will not want to miss one bewitching page. (On second thought, perhaps this book is exactly what you should be reading if you’re nodding off, because it’s like a jolt of caffeine to your system.)

Today Will Be Different follows Eleanor through the course of a single day, and let’s just say that a lot happens to her, including but not limited to Timby getting sick at school, husband Joe going missing, and former colleague Spencer making an unwelcome appearance. The confluence of these seemingly disparate events derails Eleanor in ways that cause both her and the reader to gasp out loud once or twice or ten times.

When I started reading Today Will Be Different, I figured it was going to be one of those fizzy “crazy mom” books, largely because Eleanor is so disarmingly funny: “I’m looking worse by the day. I’m all jowly. My back is dry. I have a bush the size of a dinner plate. My core strength is nonexistent.” But I quickly came to realize that this humor is the colorful wrapping of a novel that, at its core, is deep and heartrending.

Fundamentally, Today Will Be Different is about relationships: ones that baffle, ones that comfort, and ones that eviscerate. Seen through Eleanor’s eyes, these relationships assume fresh meaning. On her husband: “Was it happiness I’d had in my long marriage? Or capitulation? Or is that all happiness is, capitulation?” On an irritating girlfriend who implores Eleanor to “take agency” over her behavior: “Is there anything more joy-killing than hearing agency in that context? Consider yourself warned. Say agency all you want, just know you won’t be hanging out with me.” On sisterhood: “There was no relief deeper than being loved by the person who’d known you the longest.”

Add in Yo-Yo the dog, a poet named Alonzo, questions of faith, themes of art and creativity, and even some touching illustrations, and you have an abundant book that is as vital as Eleanor’s own mind. If at times the novel feels like it’s all over the place, that’s because it is. Scenes of laugh-out-loud comedy bleed into moments of remarkable insight (and vice versa), but Semple must have magical powers because she keeps things moving along swiftly and with a great deal of clarity. The result, at the end, is that everything just makes sense.

Now that I have finished Today Will Be Different, I find that Eleanor is very much present in my head. I channel her as I stare in my bathroom mirror each morning, pledging to do a better job of radiating calm, buying local, and not using swear words: “Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being.” I also think of Eleanor when things don’t go according to plan, when “reality appear

[s] in the pickup truck ahead of me and start[s] tossing watermelons out the back.” As she cheerfully espouses, “That’s the thing about hard times… Generally speaking, one survives.”

-Laura Anne Bird

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Laura Bird