Publication date: October 4th 2016
If Herman Koch is the master at writing all the unpleasant things we might think about our fellow man, then Maria Semple is the heart behind the tough things we think about ourselves. In her newest novel, Today Will Be Different, that angst is directed at not being nice enough and not being present in life. Every day. All day. It’s a tall order, but one Eleanor Flood is determined to fill because her life is so good and she knows it. She has a fabulous husband, an eight-year-old son who may be a bit quirky, but is overall a good kid and she was the creator of a wildly successful animated television show. On paper, she’s a candidate for bliss but in reality she’s as tired, apathetic, and annoyed as the rest of us. Until one day, when reality takes a hard left and what she thought she knew is not the case. Oh, and the past comes back to bite her in her yoga-pants-clad ass.
Today Will Be Different has much of the Semple readers love—the-how-did-she-get-inside-my-head prose and the often wearied tone of women who feel like they’re doing more than ever but getting less done. I loved every sentence of Eleanor powering through her day, ruminating about sex in marriage when you’re in your fifties (do it or you could get dumped for a younger model), describing her perfect friendship
As far as I’m concerned, the only thing sweeter than seeing a friend is that friend canceling on me.
or simply describing how she wants to be:
My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound.
But then the plot intervenes in all these rueful realities of modern-day life. Within the one day mentioned above, Eleanor thinks her husband has gone to work, but his assistant says he’s on vacation and her son plays sick to get out of school. When she goes to pick him up another mother’s set of car keys triggers bad memories so she steals them and from there the mayhem increases exponentially. Semple’s humor flounders as the story veers and jumps wildly in time and place leaving me more confused than anything.
I realize that not loving Today Will Be Different is a level of heresy that may get me kicked out of Seattle. And that even those of you who could care less about Seattle are horrified that I didn’t love the latest novel by the creator of Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Honestly, I’m as heartbroken as you are. I love Semple’s style and wit, but Today Will Be Different is so far over-the-top that I was not carried along, but left behind, saying “What?”. If you love Semple and are a fan of zany, this could be a case of It’s Not You, It’s Me.
For another opinion about this book visit April at The Steadfast Reader.