Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple published in 2016.
“Eleanor Flood is a mess. She’s erratic, scattered, and constantly getting things wrong (dates, names, and times). She resorts to calling everything “amazing” because the right word always seems to be just out of reach. But all that’s about to change, because today, she vows, will be different. Today she will be her best self. She sets the bar at a comfortable low: She will put some effort into her appearance. She will play a board game with her eight-year-old son, Timby. She will initiate sex with her hand-surgeon-to-the-stars husband, Joe. But then life happens, and Eleanor’s modest plan gets derailed.”
Exams are done which only means one thing—my summer binge reading has begun.
My first post-exam read centred around Eleanor Flood’s daily life as a mother, wife and successful television animator. Yet she has an unrelenting inner dialogue hounding her with doubts and insecurities, and she wakes up with a promise to herself every morning: Today will be different. More specifically, today will be better than yesterday. Although as the reader follows her through a seemingly normal day, we learn that it’s easier said than done. A portion of the book is also dedicated to Eleanor’s past, specifically her younger sister Ivy. It’s quickly learned that many of her shortcomings stem from her issues with Ivy, and boy do we see these shortcomings throughout her day. Her day became particularly uneasy when she found out that her husband has been lying to her about going to work when he told his receptionist that he was on “vacation.” This sends her into a wild frenzy that leaves strangers shaking their head in pity. Eleanor is the type of character that nobody wishes to emulate, yet inevitably end up relating to most of her thoughts and feelings.
Despite the title, I didn’t think that the majority of this book was going to take place within a single day. In fact, the only portion of this novel that doesn’t focus on this nightmare of a day is when she reminisces back to when she broke off contact with her sister. It’s interesting, yet it didn’t feel like it was just one day, it felt more like a week. I don’t know if it was purposely written like that, perhaps in a way to convey that this hellish day felt exceptionally long to the character herself. There was also a change of POV while she was thinking back about her sister, from the first person to the third person. Again, I can assume this might be due to the fact that it is a memory and supposed to be distinctly separate from the rest of the story. Whatever the reasons for it, it threw me off.
Speaking of the other characters, Joe and Ivy did not wow me. First discussing Joe; the supposedly level-headed doctor husband who was the centre of confusion and anxiety for our main character this whole novel. Both Eleanor and the reader spend precious neurons brainstorming possible wondering reasons for his deceit (spoiler alert: He isn’t cheating). The writer even bestowed him with his own small segment that was from his point of view (and by small, I mean 14 pages). This explained what happened to him that prompted the strange behaviour of lying and sneaking around, which, I will admit, was quite the plot twist. Other than this, I wasn’t that connected to Joe.
That being said, I absolutely preferred him to Ivy. Ivy was not only unlikeable but dry, one-dimensional and a hollow excuse for supporting character. Her only role in this novel was to justify Eleanor’s tragic past and legitimize her unstable behaviour, even though her mother’s early death and father’s alcoholism would have been a sufficient reason for Eleanor’s breakdown. To put it simply: Ivy was an unnecessary and annoying character.
On a more positive note, I did appreciate the subtle clues about her past that was sprinkled among early scenes. Before we even knew who Ivy was, Semple was dropping references to the mysterious baby sister, such as Eleanor’s distaste towards New Orleans and her reasoning for stealing a young mother’s keys that were decorated with a keychain labelled with the name “Delphine”. These were obviously confusing at the moment, yet the satisfaction of connecting the dots later in the story made it worthwhile. The moment when eyes widen and an audible “Ohhh” slips out is an unbeatable feeling while reading, so I was very thankful for that.
Another aspect I enjoyed was the correlation between the beginning and the end. It opened up with a passage of Eleanor’s promise to herself for the day. As I explained, her day did not go according to her plan, so the novel finished off with another promise to herself for the next day, slightly varied from the current days pledge. For some, this may be a hopeful sign that displays Eleanor’s perseverance despite a day that did not go the way she planned. Yet for me, it was quite the opposite, since she was back to square one. It shows the never-ending cycle of planning to be a better person but ultimately failing and trying again and again and again. Even though we only experienced one day in the shoes of Eleanor Flood, we all know how the rest of her days are going to be. I love this because even though the ending was open to interpretation, the readers had a bit of certainty about the future of the main character.
Overall, there were both good and bad features of Today Will Be Different, which ultimately cancelled each other out to make up an incredibly neutral book. This isn’t a book I’d recommend to anyone in particular, yet if I saw someone pick it off the shelf I wouldn’t run to swat it out of their hand.