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Today Will Be Different

Today Will Be Different

3.2 16
by Maria Semple

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A brilliant novel from the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions and awake to a strange, new future.

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


A brilliant novel from the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions and awake to a strange, new future.

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.

TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review

In 2012, author Maria Semple asked the question Where'd You Go, Bernadette? then answered it in her splendidly manic and madcap second novel. Now she's back — Semple, that is — with Today Will Be Different, another wickedly sharp and funny book.

This time Semple gives us Eleanor Flood, an unwilling member of that vast tribe of career women who "lost track of time and madly scrambled to get pregnant." No slouch in the overachieving department, Eleanor fell in love, got married, and had a baby. Solidly on the mommy track, she's now a housewife to Joe, a genial and gifted hand surgeon who has suddenly become a rock star in his field. She's also the stay-at- home mom of their gender-bending eight-year-old son, Timby, whose name came from an iPhone spellcheck malfunction.

To scale this domestic pinnacle Eleanor had to leave behind her former life as the animation director and creative force behind Looper Wash, a snarky hit TV show.

With growing alarm, Eleanor realizes she has "joined the epidemic of haggard women in their forties trapped in playgrounds . . . donning maternity jeans two years after giving birth and sporting skunk stripes down the middle of their heads while they pushed swings. (Who needed to look good any more? We got the kid!)"

This is not a good thing.

Stunned by the rigors of birth and motherhood, Eleanor now pinballs her way through the small calamities of daily life. Thanks to Joe's skyrocketing career, she has been uprooted from her beloved New York City and transplanted into the upscale ethers of Seattle. There, from a perch of light-filled condo, she's flailing and failing as she tackles the precise ballet of her role as helpmeet.

The book, which takes place in a single day, starts with the low bar of Eleanor's aspirations. Less of a to-do list than a plea for clemency, the agenda includes the resolution to take a shower, dress in real (not yoga) clothes, play a board game with her son, initiate sex with Joe, not swear, and, throughout it all, to radiate calm.

It's a full-throated retreat from what Eleanor does excel at these days, which is to ferociously, and with great precision, lampoon the precious, rarified world she now inhabits.

Will things go wonderfully and wackily wrong? Oh yes.

The moment Timby fakes a stomach ache to get out of school — it's the same ridiculous and "ruinously expensive" Galer Street School from Where'd You Go Bernadette?, a gift that keeps on giving — Eleanor's plans for the day blow up. A visit to her husband's surgical practice reveals the staff believes Joe and his family are away on a week's vacation. Considering that just that morning Joe pretended that he was leaving for work, this is cause for alarm.

A lunch Eleanor is dreading with a "friend" she loathes ("Sydney Madison is the human equivalent of 'Tinnitus Today' ") turns out instead to be a meeting with a former Looper Wash employee, one whom Eleanor treated shabbily and then fired. And instead of calling to nudge Eleanor about the graphic memoir she is late in delivering, the editor is delivering very different news.

With Timby as her wisecracking wingman throughout a day that lurches increasingly out of control, Eleanor reels as a series of dark secrets are exposed. One of these, centered on Eleanor's family, is meant to be the emotional heart of the story. But it's told in a series of flashbacks, and the characters don't quite catch hold. Though the details are by turns hilarious and heartrending, the ultimate reveal, as with the secret of Joe's whereabouts, lands with a bit of a thud.

Semple was an award-winning TV writer before she turned to novels. (Her father both wrote the pilot for and set the cartoony visual style of the 1960s TV series Batman.) The DNA of Semple's résumé, which includes Arrested Development and Mad About You, is threaded throughout her literary work. So too is the tight plotting needed to successfully launch and land a sitcom in the twenty-two minutes left to the writers once advertisers have had their say.

Here, with the vast (and commercial-free!) landscape of a novel to play with, Semple packs the pages with laugh-out-loud scenes, dark story arcs, and tiny moments of tenderness. She's generous both to her heroine and to her readers.

Near the middle of the book, before Eleanor knows whether her marriage is saved or lost, she pictures the family photos that line her condo walls. That’s where Semple gives Eleanor, and her readers, the best gift, something approaching wisdom. "This was happiness. Not the framed greatest hits, but the moments between. At the time I hadn’t pegged them as being particularly happy. But now, looking back at those phantom snapshots, I’m struck by my calm, my ease, the evident comfort of my life. I’m happy in retrospect." Not another killer quip or delightful quirk but the ultimate kindness, a road map to chart escape from Eleanor's desperate ennui — one just as useful, perhaps, to anyone who finds herself waking up and making the vow in Semple’s title.

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

Reviewer: Veronique de Turenne

The New York Times - Janet Maslin
[Semple's] new book, Today Will Be Different, can be outrageously funny. But it cuts closer to the bone than Where'd You Go, Bernadette did, and its main character's problems feel more real. This time Ms. Semple delivers less satire and more soul…Ms. Semple is an immensely appealing writer, and there's something universal in her heroine's efforts to get a handle on a life spinning out of control. We may not all have long-lost sisters who live in the most crazily status-obsessed corners of the South, but we surely know what she means about waking up each dawn with new resolve that melts by midmorning. The Sisyphean poignancy to this book gives it a heft that Bernadette lacked, even if it's also rougher around the edges.
The New York Times Book Review - Meg Wolitzer
…funny, smart, emotionally reverberant…The success of this poetic, seriously funny and brainy dream of a novel—"Mrs. Dalloway Takes Laughing Gas," perhaps—has to do with Maria Semple's range of riffs and preoccupations. All kinds of details, painful and perverse and deeply droll, cling to her heroine and are appraised and examined and skewered and simply wondered at. If that's considered a trick, readers of Semple's novel will be overjoyed to fall for it.
Publishers Weekly
On the fateful day she decides to be her “best self,” Eleanor Flood—cult-famous cartoonist, mother, wife, cynic—spirals from one catastrophe to the next. Her day quickly turns hectic when her son, Timby, comes home sick from school. Hoping his father might help, Eleanor instead begins to suspect her surgeon husband is having an affair when his receptionist acts cagey. Eleanor’s ego is bruised when she realizes an underling she fired years ago is now a famous artist, she dodges calls from her publisher about a long-passed deadline for her graphic memoir, and, finally, she suffers what may be a concussion after crashing headfirst into a sculpture. The latest from Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?) is a sharp, funny read, and the author injects quirky elements—drawings, a comic book, photocopies of poems—to add another layer of enjoyment. Though Eleanor is snarky, her troubles and growing calamities are engaging. Some of her encounters are a bit too convenient, and the trope of a “day from hell” makes for shallow interactions between characters, but Semple augments these first-person antics with third-person sections that dig deep into Eleanor’s past, finding particular resonance when telling the story of Ivy, the sister Eleanor feels she has lost to a wealthy husband in New Orleans. In the end, the novel wraps up too neatly, but the ride is consistently entertaining. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"I had the uncanny feeling, while reading TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT, that Maria Semple had somehow snuck into my house when I was asleep, took an x-ray image of my heart, then painted it by hand in neon colors. This book is searingly honest and hilarious and dark and neurotic. It is dizzying. Best of all, it is delicious."—Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies"

Few will be indifferent to this achingly funny and very dear book. This author is on her way to becoming a national treasure."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"

Hilarious [and] heartwarming."
Dana Getz, Entertainment Weekly

'Today will be different,' Eleanor Flood tells herself, and oh baby hang on for a wild ride that's like nothing Eleanor sees coming. In this brilliant depiction of a woman hanging on by her fingernails, Maria Semple delivers a perfect panic of a day on which the barely tolerable, muddle-through-it desperation that so many of us have known at one time or another suddenly erupts with life-shattering force. Can an existential crisis make us laugh? Such is Semple's talent that this one does, without losing any of the punch or gravity of the hardest kinds of lived experience."—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"

TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is going to delight the many, many fans of Where'd You Go, Bernadette."Michael Merschel, Dallas Morning News

Library Journal
Narrated by irreverent Eleanor Flood, a self-described "past her prime animator" who achieved fleeting fame, Semple's latest novel following the best-selling Where'd You Go, Bernadette features the author's trademark satire. After relocating from New York to Seattle, Eleanor's erratic life consists of shuttling son Timby, lunches with friends she can't stand, poetry lessons with tutor Alonzo, and thinking about revitalizing her marriage to Joe. That is, until an old friend mentions Eleanor's estranged sister, Ivy. Interweaving chapters provide flashbacks to Eleanor and Ivy's difficult childhood after the death of their mother and years with an emotionally distant, alcoholic father. Semple acutely captures the complexities of sibling relationships when describing Ivy's hurried marriage to overbearing scion Bucky Willett, the series of events that led to the sisters' estrangement, and their failed efforts to reconnect. Present-day chapters focus on Timby faking his way out of school and Joe's unexplained absences at work, causing Eleanor's paranoia and insecurities to get the best of her. VERDICT An introspective look, both comedic and tragic, at attempting to be the best one can be: wife, mother, or sibling. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as Where'd You Go, this book will satisfy fans of Semple and satire. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/16.]—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-06-22
A day in the life of an enchanting and gifted woman who is almost too frazzled to go on.The women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the mad housewives, and the Annie Halls can welcome a new member to their club: Eleanor Flood, the narrator of Semple's (Where'd You Go Bernadette, 2012, etc.) second sendup of Seattle and its denizens. Eleanor, formerly a New Yorker and the animator of a popular cartoon about four girls in " '60's style pinafores" misdirecting "their unconscious fear of puberty into a random hatred of hippies, owners of pure-bred dogs and babies named Steve," lives in Seattle with her sweet Seahawks doctor husband and her precocious, makeup-wearing third-grade son. Timby goes to Galer Street School, an ultra-PC environ familiar to Bernadette fans, where Eleanor imagines his arrival was greeted with delighted cries of "Eureka! We've got a transgender!" This book is so packed with interesting characters and situations, it could have been three times as long. You want more New Orleans Garden District (where Eleanor's sister has been kidnapped by an effete Mardi Gras krewe captain), more New York animation studio, more poignant childhood stories (dead actress mother and alcoholic father, illustrated in a beautiful color insert), more annotated poems ("Skunk Hour," by Robert Lowell). Only one thing you don't want more of—a weird plotline about husband Joe's secret life. As Eleanor tells Timby when they visit a public art installation, "I don't mean to ruin the ending for you, sweet child, but life is one long headwind. To make any kind of impact requires self-will bordering on madness. The world will be hostile, it will be suspicious of your intent, it will misinterpret you, it will pack you with doubt, it will flatter you into self-sabotage—My God, I'm making it sound so glamorous and personal! What the world is, more than anything? It's indifferent." Ah, Eleanor. You could have stopped at glamorous and personal. Because few will be indifferent to this achingly funny and very dear book. This author is on her way to becoming a national treasure.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Maria Semple is the author of This One Is Mine and Where'd You Go, Bernadette, which has been translated into seventeen languages. She lives in Seattle.

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Today Will Be Different 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I laughed out loud several times. Yes, the beginning might be a bit confusing but stick with it. I particulary enjoyed the ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved Where'd You Go, Bernadette and I found this book to be even funnier. Maria Semple's writing is a delight.
SheilaDeeth 4 months ago
“As everybody knows, being raised Catholic with half a brain means becoming an atheist,” says protagonist Eleanor Flood in Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different. Eleanor’s the sort of person everyone knows, but no one wants to know well. She’s sarcastic, moderately angry, frustrated, definitely funny—a very East Coast character marooned in the peaceful West. She loves poetry, which is seriously intriguing—occasional “notes” in the book include poetic analysis, inspiring inspired readers to see themselves, Eleanor and poetry in a clearer light. 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.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Xkoqueen 8 months ago
Today Will Be Different has just the right balance of sarcasm, denial and self-awareness. Maria Semple’s second novel is again set in Seattle, Washington. The main characters of both novels have the same tone, but there are no other similarities. The characters in Today Will Be Different are complex but not wholly likable. They are intriguing vessels to relay good messages. Eleanor is blind to her own faults but quick to point out other’s weaknesses. Her much maligned husband and family are present only in her flashbacks and musings, so readers get a biased view of them until the zenith of the story. Eleanor’s eventual epiphany reveals some hard truths that made me think of my own middle-aged hard truths. Ms. Semple creates compassion for her characters by making them flawed in seemingly universal aspects. The book and Eleanor’s day begins with her chanting a mantra about how her day will be different. As she proceeds with the mantra, my anticipation that she would fail miserably grew. I loved the mantra and its call for positive change. That mantra creates so many possibilities in the story set up, and it gives great insight into the main character and narrator. Eleanor’s day does turn out to be incredibly different, and it leads to great introspection as well as some zany chases and bizarre scenes. "Everything I'd set out to achieve in this lifetime, I'd done, with grace to spare. Except loving well the people I loved most" Ms. Semple depicts marriage, family, and mid-life crises with witty humor and tenderness. Today Will Be Different is an entertaining and altogether relatable story. Whom amongst us is able to say our life turned out perfect and exactly as planned and that we are the faultless paragons of virtue we believe ourselves to be? The heavy hitting messages about family, marriage and turning a new leaf are balanced by the snarky humor and peculiar coincidences. Interesting story layout, quirky yet relatable characters, and an unexpected twist make Today Will Be Different a highly enjoyable and humorous book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ThoughtsFromaPage More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved as much if not more than Bernadette. Deeper for sure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the worst books ive read in a long time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the wit and insecurities of the main character. Great pkot twists. A truly enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got bored with this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really hard to even start the book. Writing seems disoriented.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not follow this book the author is all over the place?? Sorry i waited for this book to come out
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After waiting months for this book what a let down. First book was so good.