I fell hard and fast for Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and This One is Mine (review) was such a pleasant surprise, but Today Will Be Different kind of fell flat for me. Maybe a part of it is because this was my one and only “most anticipated” book of the year, but alas.
The synopsis tells it better than I could:
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 had a similar vibe as Semple’s previous two novels. Maria Semple does strong, quirky, frustrating women really well. In all three, you have a talented middle-aged woman who have (or had) a fairly successful career yet feel unfulfilled. In this novel, even got a few mentions of Violet Perry from This One is Mine (she’s the writer for the show Eleanor illustrates).
This story wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t amazing. Let’s try something new here --
Things I liked:
As is characteristic of Semple’s novels, this was a really fun, quick read. Lots of great wit and sarcasm.
A lead character who is hardly holding it together. That’s life - it’s messy and imperfect and frustrating. It’s really nice when a book leans into that rather than trying to hide it.
On a similar thread, there’s something very enjoyable and comforting about hearing Eleanor voice the things we’re all thinking but don't want to admit (i.e. an overly needy friend you wish you could shake, but feel obligated to hang out with).
There’s a few pages from Eleanor’s graphic novel actually laid out in the book in full color - I wasn’t expecting this and it really helped bring the story to life.
Things I didn’t like:
The story felt a bit rushed along. The idea, when writing this novel, was for Semple to throw in as much crazy stuff as possible that could happen in a day. But, in turn, that left some plot points feeling like an afterthought.
The voice was just so similar to her two previous novels. Semple has really found her sweet spot, and maybe I’d feel differently if I hadn’t read her other books, but I wish she’d branch out a bit more and take some risks in her writing.
I’ve mentioned my sensitivity to this in the past, but there was a situation with her dog Yo-Yo that gave me WAY too much anxiety. It felt like something that was brought up, forgotten about, and then quickly resolved in a few sentences. He ends up okay in the end, but it was definitely something that impacted my level of enjoyment.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read. I think it would be a good beach, weekend, or waiting room read. I love Maria Semple, and will be totally excited for her next book to come out, but Today Will Be Different just wasn’t my favorite.