Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Today Will Be Different

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (2016)

Eleanor Flood is determined to get it together today. She will shower, she will go to yoga, she will initiate sex with her husband Joe. She will, in short, be the person she wants to be. But her plans are foiled at the outset when her son Timby fakes sick to get out of school and spend the day with her. When she stops by her husband's office, she learns that he has told them he's on vacation this week. Now she is determined to find out what he is hiding from her. What was supposed to be an ordinary and well-managed day has turned into something quite different.

Along the way we meet a variety of colorful characters. There is Eleanor's poetry teacher Alonzo, an old artist friend named Spencer, the wealthy eccentric Bucky Fanning, and her own sister Ivy, whose existence she has kept secret from her son. That part of the story revolves around a graphic memoir called The Flood Girls, which is tucked into the pages in all its lovely full-color splendor.

So it takes place in one day, but obviously it's about a whole lot more than that, and the reader moves back and forth through Eleanor's life as she comes to grips with her marriage and her relationship with her sister. I wish I had read it all in one day, or at least in just a couple of days, because I think I would have felt the full effect of it all a bit more. As it was, I kept forgetting where Eleanor was in her day because when it veered into a back story it would be a couple of days until I was brought back to the present time. So, for instance, early in the book Eleanor ties up her dog Yo-Yo at a shopping cart rack outside of Costco while she goes inside, but she ends up so distracted that she leaves without him and, because it had been a few days for me, I didn't even realize it until they are reunited later. It's a pretty short book, actually, but I happened to be reading it during a busy work week so it was spread out much more than is usual for me.

Still, I found it fun and entertaining. The fast-moving novel is full of the zany humor familiar to those who have read Where'd You Go, Bernadette. There were lots of parts that made me laugh, such as one conversation late in the book when Eleanor says: "Do you want to know how fragmented my brain is? Last week, on the radio, it said a train in Ohio derailed because someone had left a backhoe on the tracks. And I actually thought, Was it me? Did I leave a backhoe on the tracks?" I also liked little touches such as when her son Timby tries to calm her down with a breathing exercise by urging her to "smell the soup and cool the soup." (Breathe in, breathe out.)

I know this book didn't get nearly as much attention as Where'd You Go, Bernadette, and the reviews seem a bit mixed. It's just not the same book and I think it's ok that it's not the same book. I suppose I didn't love as much either, but just as we should not compare apples to oranges or pick a favorite child, I liked Today Will Be Different a lot for what it is, not for what many of us were secretly hoping it would be.

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