Today Will be Different by Maria Semple
That’s what Eleanor Flood thinks – and it will be different, just not in the way she planned. This is the premise of Semple’s third novel, the follow-up to the hugely successful Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, which I’ve yet to read, but heard a lot of good things about…
Eleanor is fiftyish, neurotic and peri-menopausal, she became a mum (to Timby) late, has an illustrrious hand-surgeon husband Joe and her own successful illustration and animation career. But Eleanor has never entirely grown-up – she’s let her kooky speak/act first, think later side dominate for too long and she is also getting a bit of a martyr complex on top of that.
If I’m forced to be honest, here’s an account of how I left the world last week: worse, worse, better, worse, same, worse, same.
Eleanor tells us straight. How she and Joe came to an agreement when they decided to have a child – to “move anywhere he wanted for ten years; then back to New York for ten.” They end up in Seattle. Why?
As everybody knows, being raised Catholic with half a brain means becoming an atheist. At one of our skeptic conventions (yes, our early years were actually spent doing things like driving to Philadelphia to watch Penn Jillette debate a rabbi! Oh, to be childless again… or not) Joe heard that Seattle was the least religious city in America. Seattle it was.
Eleanor’s new day will start with her poetry lesson, and then a lunch date with her least favourite ‘friend’. However, it goes badly from the start, her poetry lesson being interrupted by a call. Timby (her son) is ill at school. This will mess up her lunch date unless she can track down Joe to help out. Instantly, things get complicated in that knock-on way and Joe is nowhere to be found.
After a completely madcap beginning, the novel certainly gets darker during the second half as we’re told some of Eleanor’s back-story and find out about her mother and her troubled relationship with her father. Then there is her sister, whom Eleanor fell out with big time after Ivy married a guy from New Orleans with very old-fashioned attitudes.
Timby is fun though – but what a name. Eleanor explains:
When I was pregnant, we learned it was going to be a boy, Joe and I ecstatically volleyed names back and forth. One day I texted TIMOTHY which autocorrected to TIMBY. How could we not?
There’s no denying that I was disappointed by the ending though, which felt as if the author didn’t know how to stop Eleanor from steam-rollering through her day, so she just brought things to a halt with a complete volte-face in which the wrong character has the epiphany!I don’t want to spoil things, so I’ve been deliberately vague about the storyline. I did also like the illustrated insert, from a comic drawn by Eleanor – a quirky and charming set of drawings of her growing up with her sister.
There’s an awful lot in the 288 pages to digest – surely it’s physically impossible for someone to cram as much into a day as Eleanor does this one day. She just never stops! Too often Eleanor is on the wrong side of being irritating rather than eliciting more of our sympathy. It must be the attraction of opposites as Joe, the little we see of him, is calm and steadfast – I’d have liked hear more about Joe (although him disappearing during the day is key feature of the plot). As a whole, this novel was rather disjointed and definitely bonkers, but I did enjoy reading it – it’s smart and wise-cracking and there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. I will be interested to see how Where’d You Go, Bernadette? compares now. (7.5/10)
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Source: Publisher via Amazon Vine