Sunday, November 13, 2016

Review: 'Today will be Different'

Today will be Different
By Maria Semple
Literary fiction
October 2016
Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316403436

Family letting you down, micro-aggressions, President John Tyler's progeny, letting the days slip by and whether you love someone enough to move to Spokane with them are among the ideas in Maria Semple's warm, funny and seriously good Today Will be Different.

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.

©2016 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Review and reprinted with permission

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