Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Digital Audiobook narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite
Published by Little, Brown and Company on October 4, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Humor
Length: 259 pages or 6 hours, 28 minutes
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Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.
After reading two of her books, I’ve decided that I both love and hate Maria Semple’s writing. On one hand, I find that her plots just go around in circles without really getting anything done. Her protagonists have a tendency to ramble, which is a bummer, and there are these whole side plots that don’t really seem to matter. But at the end? They all seem to come together. They aren’t as rigidly structured as some other novels – I’d go as far as to say they’re messy. But real life is messy, so on the other hand, that’s why I like them. Like Bernadette Fox, Eleanor Flood is an extraordinary woman in an ordinary life and she’s a mess, but trying to get it all together. It feels relatable.
For fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette there are references to familiar things and places and people throughout Today Will Be Different. Timby goes to the same school as Bea, which is now in Bernadette’s old house, so we know that this is in the future. Seattle is the playground (prison?) for these eccentric women. But by no means do you need to have read Where’d You Go, Bernadette to appreciate this book. That said, I’m glad I read Bernadette first because I liked it a little better and I enjoyed the little Easter Eggs throughout.
Okay! But enough of comparing works. Today Will Be Different was the first book I picked up in 2019 because I liked the outlook. I wanted to look at a story of someone who honestly just wanted to get her shit together, and that’s more or less where Today Will Be Different starts. It goes horribly askew, but the intention is there. Eleanor Flood wakes up in the morning and decides that she wants to take the day head on, take better care of herself and be a better person to everyone around her. She starts with all the best intentions, but by the end of the day, she’s opened the floodgates of her past, found out her son is being bullied, watches a friend walk out on his job, gets a concussion, and learns something life changing about her husband. Not precisely the day she signed up for.
I’m sparing you details, because I think you should read this book. It’s overall pretty good. I wasn’t really on board ’til the end, but the same thing happened with Where’d You Go, Bernadette. I think that Maria Semple’s novels need to be fully digested before they can be appreciated.
The characters are all messy and complicated, or if they’re not, Eleanor just doesn’t know them well enough to see the layers. Eleanor herself has a whirlwind rushing around inside her at all times, and as someone who is a constant mess of thought and emotion, I appreciated seeing that on the page. This protagonist does a lot of unforgivable stuff, but you like her anyway. And they’re mostly small things, though I’d say she’s not a very considerate friend? Also she should probably leave her kid with fewer semi-strangers. I know people who would call social services on her for neglectful behavior (though Timby seems pleased as punch and nothing bad happened). Eleanor Flood was a character I liked because of her flaws, not despite them.
The time jumps in Today Will Be Different drove me crazy, because of their sheer volume. There were time jumps within time jumps. Maria Semple set herself up to tell a story in a single day. To understand the depths of Eleanor’s character, she needed to give a bit of history. Otherwise, the reader doesn’t have enough time to gets to know her, let alone care about her. So while I understand the choice, sometimes we were in a time jump for so long that I got attached to that story-within-a-story and got annoyed when we jumped somewhere else. I wanted resolution! But real life is messy and sometimes there simply isn’t a resolution.
Still, even within a day’s time, we see the shift in Eleanor’s mind at the very end. There seems to be a future with her, something she will be able to pick up the pieces and move forward with, even though she feels like her future is uncertain. I wouldn’t want her future, but I like that she’s found her spark again. I think having that creative flow will help her, so even though everything isn’t tied up with a ribbon at the end, at least we know that Eleanor Flood is going to be alright.
As I said earlier, I did like this book. I’d be interested in reading it in hardcopy, as opposed to listening to the audio. I always think that format creates a different experience. This audiobook was narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite, the same person who narrated Where’d You Go, Bernadette and I think that hearing her voice altered my perspective reading this. There was definitely the same panicked anxiety in her voice that I remembered with Bernadette, and it made it perhaps a bit too easy to align the two characters.
But yes! It’s good! I liked it, definitely a quick easy read, good for when you want to gobble up a life that is waaaay more messy than yours. But also super privileged. Basically when you want to hate-love something, this is for you.