Today Will Be Different

Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different
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Today Will Be Different

Maria Semple

Eleanor Flood knows she’s a mess. But today will be different. Today she will shower and put on real clothes. She will attend her yoga class after dropping her son, Timby, off at school. She’ll see an old friend for lunch. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action - life happens.

For today is the day Timby has decided to pretend to be ill to weasel his way into his mother’s company. It’s also the day surgeon Joe has chosen to tell his receptionist - but not Eleanor - that he’s on vacation. And just when it seems that things can’t go more awry, a former colleague produces a relic from the past - a graphic memoir with pages telling of family secrets long buried and a sister to whom Eleanor never speaks.

Review

Eleanor Flood is a well off animator living in Seattle with her sports surgeon husband Joe and their 8-year-old son, Timby. Eleanor is generally depressed by her life, which is outwardly full of material comfort but unsatisfying. Eleanor wakes each day deciding that today she is going to be her best self, that today will be different from all the other days in what she feels is a usually failed bargain with the world. But today will be different.

In an escalating series of misadventures Eleanor careens through her day, accompanied at different points by Timby, her poet Alonzo, and Yo-Yo the dog, not to mention the reappearance of an old employee she had fired who has made it big. It’s the set up for a broad and funny satire on modern upper-middle class American living. Then it takes a turn. A third of the way into this screwball satire, the Flood Sisters arrive. A graphic novel (or comic  – depending on what you call it) within the novel, the Flood Sisters, in 12 intricate pages bring into focus the weight behind the comedy.

Maria Semple, whose earlier novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and who for 15 years wrote for television on shows including Arrested Development, Ellen, and Mad About You, brings an assured, fast paced comic sensibility to a very well realised portrait of a woman suffering from depression and family trauma. Maria Semple has achieved something very difficult, and something I much appreciated, in writing a fast-reading, clever comedy that packs a real emotional punch.


Marie Matteson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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