TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT by Maria Semple

“Today will be different” is a fun read, with many laugh-out-loud moments, & a main character who reaches out from the pages of the book & grabs you with both hands.

Eleanor Flood, almost 50 & pretty off-the-wall in her behaviour and outlook, is married to lovely, calm, capable Joe Wallace.

Joe is a surgeon, Eleanor an animator, & they live in Seattle which Eleanor ranks as dull but safe and clean and well-intentioned.  New York it isn’t.

Their 8 year old son Timby is a tad unusual, overweight, but pretty mature when it comes to dealing with his volatile mother.

“I don’t want to be that way,” I said, tears filling my voice. “I really don’t.”

I unbuckled my seat belt and turned around.

“What are you doing?” Timby asked, his voice edged with alarm.

I was all butt as I attempted to clamber into the back.

“I need to hold you,” I grunted, struggling to pull my foot up and over.

“Don’t,” Timby said, a sitting duck in his car seat. “Mom, stop.”

“I want to be worthy of you,” I said, panting like childbirth. “You deserve better than me.” I became stuck between the console and the roof in an unsightly gargoyle crouch.

“Oh God, look at me,” I cried, “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“Neither do I,” he said. “Go back.”

I screwed my shoulders around to face front. Timby’s foot gave me ashore into the driver’s seat.

I grabbed my hair at the scalp. “And now on top of everything, I just acted really weird and scary.”

“Put it behind you,” Timby said.

“Good job.”

Some of Eleanor’s moods and reactions are – dare one admit it – familiar to any woman who has had a child and discovered that her previously good brain is not what it used to be… yeah, sadly, speaking from experience here:

You know how your brain turns to mush? How it starts when you’re pregnant? You laugh, full of wonder and conspiracy, and you chide yourself, me and my pregnancy brain! Then you give birth and your brain doesn’t return? But you’re breast-feeding, so you laugh, as if you’re a member of an exclusive club.  me and my nursing brain! But then you stop nursing and the terrible truth descends: Your brain is never coming back. You’ve traded vocabulary, lucidity, and memory for motherhood. You know how you’re in the middle of a sentence and you realise at the end you’re going to need to call up a certain word and you’re worried you won’t be able to, but you’re already committed so you hurtle along and then pause because you’ve arrived at the end but the word hasn’t? And its not even a ten-dollar word you’re after, like polemic or shibboleth, but a two-dollar word, like distinctive, so you just end up saying amazing?

Which is how you join the gang of nitwits who describe everything as amazing?

The writing is brilliantly descriptive, and the sections featuring New Orleans, & Ivy’s marriage to Bucky are hypnotic. You can feel the heat and humidity, and the contrived elegance of white upper-crust society living in a Gone with the Wind world of devoted black staff, and ball gowns and long gloves and handwritten letters.  And cachepots.  Ah, that delicious cachepot.

The book shows us Eleanor and Joe from different perspectives & with a different optic, and these changes of focus highlight the twists in the narrative.  Maria Semple has many clever tricks up her sleeves, leading us to imagine one thing and then presenting us with quite another scenario.

The end of the novel is not what I had expected.

Let’s leave it there, with no plot spoiler.

A good, fun, entertaining read.

If you would like to buy the book now, having read this review – here you go.  Couldn’t be simpler.

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