Today Will be Different by Maria Semple
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.