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. A hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.
Yes, there are the familiar sharp one-liners, but this ain't no "Bernadette". This is dull. The first few pages are fine then suddenly we're into flashback, Eleanor's bio, with a heavy emphasis on her strange and estranged sister. And a bit of a nasty tone creeps in here and there. I wonder if some of Semple friends find a bit o themselves in this book - and not in a nice way - and how do they feel. so much of this seemed like a bad first draft. I was waiting so long for the Bernadette followup, only to get this.....Save your time and money. I won't automatically buy her next one; I'll road test a few chapters first. Fool me once....
Semple is excellent at pace, tone and dialogue. She tells this story in a complicated way -- unpeeling layers -- but it still flows beautifully. That's hard to do, and she does it really well. The book is funny and sad, and the minor characters pop. The book's core, though, is The Flood Sisters, which is great.
Today Will Be Different is an interesting read. Semple’s last book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, was laugh-out-loud funny and very entertaining. I was hoping that Today Will Be Different would be the same. While it is entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny it is not. There are certainly some funny parts, such as her child being named Timby because her iPhone corrected Timothy to Timby and it stuck (my iPhone is constantly correcting things I meant to type to random, bizarre words that make no sense so I could certainly relate to that). I also love the concussion app that Timby found when he was worried his mother Eleanor had a concussion – every five minutes it randomly asks a new question meant to check a person’s alertness. These questions were interjected at odd and usually comical times.
I found the book fairly sad and wished that some of Eleanor’s issues had been resolved more, particularly one she has with a family member. I was glad I read today Will Be Different, but Where’d You Go, Bernadette remains my favorite by far.
This amusing tale about what seems to be a perfect family will make the reader laugh out loud as the main character, Eleanor, bounces from crisis to crisis, many of her own making, many caused by her own rash decisions. Eleanor had been the animation director of a very successful television program called Looper Wash. Her husband Joe was a renowned hand surgeon. They moved to Seattle with the expectation that they would live there for ten years, and then, they would move back to New York City for ten years. Joe wanted to live in Seattle; Eleanor wanted to live in New York City. They had a child, Timby, who was simply delightful. They lived in a nice house, had a nice dog and were relatively happy together. They seemed content with their lives, but beneath the surface, trouble was brewing for each of them, and it plays out, with humor and a bit of sarcasm for each reader to enjoy.
When the book begins, Eleanor declared that today would be different. She would get up, dress properly and behave when she met people. She would be kind; she would be responsible. She would be relaxed, and do the things everyone did, without a problem. She would be more interactive with friends and her husband. However, she had no filter and often lost her temper and lashed out impetuously, without thinking first. Afterward, often she would calm down, think more rationally and try to move on with her life more thoughtfully. Still, she was very judgmental; she often made rude remarks and then second guessed what she had said later on, when it was too late. At first she seemed totally consumed with herself and her own needs, but after her background was revealed, it was somewhat understandable and she became a more sympathetic character. There were relatives in her past who were “ghosts” in her closet. Joe was the calming element in her life; he was the one who kept her centered.
Ten years had passed, and Eleanor noted that nothing had been said about moving back to New York City. Her angst was building. She was well aware of the fact that although she was still very much in love with Joe, and he was still in love with her, their relationship had settled into a comfortable routine. She vowed to change this.
How Eleanor spent this momentous day that she vowed would be different is actually hilarious. She goes from crisis to crisis with her third grader son, whom she had to pick up early from school because he didn’t feel well. However, on this day, she also discovered that she had double booked a lunch date. She decided to bring Timby to his dad’s medical office, hoping to leave him there so she could keep her appointment and straighten out her schedule. What she discovered when she got to Joe’s office was very troubling for her. He was not there, and she had no idea where he had gone. Now she knew that there were secrets between the, that she had been unaware of, and she sets out to find Joe, or at least, to find out what he is up to that had caused this need to be secretive. As she investigated, she got herself into difficult situations, and she jumped to some pretty radical conclusions before she calmed herself down. In several situations, Timby often assumed the role of the adult in the room. He attempted to calm her down when she overreacted and he soothed her when she got hurt. He was relaxed while she was frenzied.
After Eleanor found Joe, she learned that he had recently had a surprising epiphany that he had not shared with her. It was life changing. Her reaction was typical. She jumped to conclusions without thinking. However, true to form, she calmed down and became more rational, and enabled a conversation rather than an over-reaction. However, it was her over-reactions that were so funny and unbelievable.
Although it was an easy read, it was not as engaging as her book, Where’d You Go Bernadette?” The highlight of the book was Timby. He will win every reader’s heart with his innocent comments and his sincere attempts to comfort and guide his mother. He seemed so sweet and innocent that there will be nary a reader who will not want to hug Timby and wish he belonged to them! He had no guile and often appeared far more clear-headed and level-headed than Eleanor! It was Timby who drew me in and kept me involved in the book. The narrator imbued him with so much innocence and heart that he became irresistible. His mother, however, sometimes became a bit tiresome invoking the opposite reaction, possibly making the reader want to throttle her for the way she sometimes spoke to Timby and went off the deep end, more often than not, creating a crisis where there was none. Timby seemed to have greater insight into his mother’s personality than she had into his. He rose above each situation while she became overwhelmed with it. He was adaptable and well-behaved. He was like the perfect child in spite of her!
Written with humor that was sometimes laugh out loud and that had a somewhat sarcastic edge, Eleanor came to life with her little boy beside her. The reader will wonder when they turn the last page, was this day different for Eleanor? Will the next day be different? Who is the real Eleanor, and should she change? Is her charm part of her natural personality or the one she wishes she had? What was it in Eleanor’s past that shaped her defensive and impetuous behavior? Where would she go from here?
In her second novel, following the brilliant Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Semple again focuses on a Seattle mother of a precocious young child and an accomplished husband. Our heroine this time was behind a cult hit of an animated series years ago. She has had an advance for a book based on the characters but gotten nowhere. Eleanor has been spinning her wheels for years. Her morning mantra that "today will be different" and that she might, say, get dressed and go to yoga after taking her son to school shows how encapsulated her life has become.
Eleanor realizes she has first-world problems. Her husband is a successful surgeon prized by the Seahawks. In Seattle, this practically makes one royalty. (The scene in Costco of people swarming around 12th Man cupcakes decorated with blue and green frosting is repeated across the state. It's not just Seattle. It's not just Costco.) Their son attends a prized, private school. She takes personalized poetry lessons from an aspiring writer. Her worst nightmare is going to lunch with a woman she views as boring.
Through the course of a day that is at times over the top, filled with flashbacks and takes more twists and turns than a hiking trail in the North Cascades, Eleanor shows the reader why she has been spinning her wheels, how much it could cost her and what really matters to her.
One person who really matters to Eleanor is her sister, Ivy. After their mother died, Eleanor took care of Ivy while their father drank away the rest of his life. Her drawings of those times about the two Flood Girls are the foundation of the work she is trying to create now.
The strength of Semple's storytelling is that the following wisdom is not plunked in the middle of finding out what the current situation is with Eleanor and Ivy, but it resonates with this and what happens after the reader finds out what the current situation is:
"If you were raised by a drunk, you're above all the adult child of an alcoholic. It means you blame yourself for everything, you avoid reality, you can't trust people, you're deeply insecure and hungry to please."
This is what has made Eleanor tick. That this truth is not the sole basis of what happened makes the novel even stronger. Whether it's a spouse's evolving belief system, whether it's holding onto the past well past its sell-by date, or whether it's realizing that, like Dorothy, there's no place like home (even if it means moving home to Spokane or Scotland or even New York City), Today will be Different has a strong heart beating under the madcap antics of Eleanor on her wild ride of a day.
"Today there will be an ease about me." Eleanor starts her story promising this. By the end, we see that it may well come to be.
I'm finding it very difficult to write reviews lately. This one is no different, but I'm going to make myself do it now before I forget (I have books I've finished still marked "currently reading" because I'm unmotivated to write reviews).
I liked this one. It had funny moments and poignant moments. It had crazy mom antics and a surprising relationship between sisters.
But I didn't find it memorable. In fact I finished it last night and tonight when I picked up my iPad to go back to it I didn't even remember I'd finished it!
There was also a serious lack of resolution. This is one day in this woman's life and it seems that it was different than before but the cause of her shitty days is still there. She's still lost her sister and will not have a relationship with her niece and nephew. Ugh.
But at least she still has her husband who took a sharp right turn to God and her sweet boy with a terrible name.
So begins Eleanor Flood's day, a day like many others in her life in Seattle, where she lives with her husband and eight-year-old son Timby. Since leaving her job as an animator in NYC, she has struggled a bit to figure out her life. Today, like many others, she begins the day with a plan that is quickly set aside when she gets a call from Timby's school to pick him up, find that her husband is not at his office, and get surprised by an old employee for lunch. As Eleanor and Timby run from place to place, we learn more about Eleanor's backstory and even get a glimpse at a graphic novel that Eleanor has written about her childhood. The plot is engaging, but the best part of the book are Semple's spot-on observations about the Eleanor's life. She had me nodding and laughing throughout the story. I think that [Where'd You Go, Bernadette] is still my favorite Semple book, but I enjoyed spending time with Eleanor Flood.
I went into this with somewhat low expectations, given all of the negative reviews I'd seen. But it started out good -- the humor hit home with me & I was enjoying the story. But then it started getting disjointed. Flashbacks to the past which didn't really add much to the story and that were never really resolved. The ending felt rushed and just...weird. It's a relatively quick read, and I read this on audio, which I would probably recommend over written copy, as the reader (Kathleen Wilhoite) is really what saved this from being a bigger disappointment for me.
I think if the author had stuck to the "difficulties" of facing a bad day with her usual wit and humor the book would have been better than going down a "dark and lonely path" with a sister who no longer communicated and a husband who had major secrets.
“You’re trying to figure out, why the agita surrounding one normal day of white-people problems?"
(She might have more accurately said “non-upper-class problems” but at least she is aware that what she complains about are things which only those with privilege, leisure, and money would consider to be "miserable".)
Eleanor and her husband Joe, a famous hand surgeon, live in Seattle. Both 49, they have been married 15 years and have one son, 8, named Timby. (She explains that when she was texting possible names to her husband, her IPhone autocorrected “Timothy” to “Timby” and they couldn’t resist using it as the name.) Timby is possibly the best character in this book. Precocious beyond his years, his ease with life and adaptability helps ground his mother.
The main drama of this book revolves around Eleanor’s relationship with her estranged sister Ivy. Like the “multimedia” approach Semple employed in her first book, in the middle of this one there is a 16-page, full-color graphic memoir about the childhood of Eleanor and Ivy, supposedly created by Eleanor, a former animator. [In actuality, the charming illustrations were done by the artist Eric Chase Anderson.]
Eleanor is four years older than Ivy and basically raised Ivy by herself, which is the only explanation to this reader why she continued to put up with Ivy's reprehensible behavior. Although this entire novel takes place in one day, throughout it Eleanor has cause to reflect upon past events, which is how we gradually learn what happened with Ivy and why they no longer communicate.
The ending gives Timby the last word on how their life may turn out after this very full day.
Discussion: As with Semple’s first book, she goes off on very clever riffs parodying many aspects of her life in Seattle, from the private schools to Costco to the evolution of marriage:
“Somewhere along the way… my marriage turned into an LLC. . . . Joe and I became two adults joined in the business of raising a child. When we first met, I’d have gone anywhere with the guy. . . We got married,and of course I thought, This is what life is. But it wasn’t life. It was youth. And now it’s Joe going to jazz by himself and me cracking jokes about how cold and erratic I’ve become.”
She gives a quick and cogent analysis of what it’s like to be the adult child of an alcoholic, as Eleanor is:
“…it means you blame yourself for everything, you avoid reality, you can’t trust people, you’re hungry to please. Which isn’t all bad: perfectionism makes the straight-A student; lack of trust begets self-sufficiency; low self-esteem can be a terrific motivator; if everyone were so gung-ho on reality, there’d be no art.”
Eleanor fears Joe is having an affair, and provides a good summary of the emotions one might feel in that situation. She talks about how underneath the anger is fear, and underneath fear is love: “Everything came down to the terror of losing what you love.”
Evaluation: This book isn’t as amusing as the first book; there is more focus on unhappiness, and on the hypocritical and fickle nature of humankind. Nevertheless, it is imaginative, and often funny. But because Eleanor is so self-absorbed (one of the traits she hopes to correct when she promises “Today will be different. Today I will be present”), it’s hard to warm up to her. Further, her devotion to Ivy requires a belief that the primacy of blood bonds can overcome the most egregious of hurtful practices, which is a bit hard to swallow in this case.
This is my second book that I have read by Maria Semple and I will be looking for her other books to read as well. I was very happy to read that she was (is? Season 5 announced!) a writer for Arrested Development, one of my all-time favorite tv shows. Much like the characters in that show, the main character in this book, Eleanor Flood, was self-centered, aloof, sometimes deep, and yet hilarious. This is also like the main character in Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Where she is not the stereotypically warm and overly coddling mother, quite the opposite. An example of this is when she leaves her son, Timby, with a stranger just so she can run off to solve a misunderstanding. Another example is when she leaves her dog, Yo-Yo, in a Costco parking lot for hours. I can see where some readers may not enjoy this consistency of personality, however, I appreciate it. I also liked the unique career that she has of an animator of The Flood Girls, as well as how that comes into play with her relationship with her sister, Ivy. Lastly, I enjoyed the unexpected turn that the book went in towards the resolution. I actually listened to this on AudioCD, read by Kathleen Wilhoite, who was simply fantastic. She gave distinctive voices to each character and at one point even sang beautifully. I do hope to be able to listen to more audiobooks narrated by her as she made them more interesting and unique.
I did not give the full 5 stars because the storyline was choppy. Some scenes ended abruptly and unapologetically that it was just assumed that the reader could figure out the rest on their own. I would not recommend this book for readers who do not enjoy foul language, atheism, family drama, or marital distress.
However, I would recommend this book for fans of Arrested Development and her other book Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I would also recommend this book for those who love Seattle as there is a lot of mention of it as well as it is where the book is set.
Most books, of course, don’t include analysis of poetry, childhood art (in color, in a book within the book), and the untold story of imaginary siblings’ adventures turned into a board game. So This Book Will Be Different, as well as the titular Today. But the book is told in thoroughly convincing voices, mothers brains really do “turn to mush … when you’re pregnant,” and there’s plenty to relate to in this novel, plus two intriguing mysteries (because we never really know anyone), a child, a dog, temptation, and even a hint of faith—appropriate after that strident defense of its lack.
Today Will Be Different is intriguingly experimental. Its denouement verges on too coincidental without quite getting there. And its characters are convincingly, sometimes achingly human. It’s the sort of book a reader will most likely hate or love.
Disclosure: I picked it up off a gift table and loved it.