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Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

SempleSemple’s new novel is a witty social satire and a poignant look at middle age. Its main protagonist, Eleanor Flood, is taking a self-critical look and not liking what she sees. A transplant from New York and former career woman, she now lives in Seattle as the wife of a famous hand surgeon. Her only intellectual stimulation comes from private poetry lessons she takes from a local poet. So she gets up one morning and promises herself, “Today will be different.”

Although the action takes place over 24 hours, the character’s past life comprises most of the book. She and her sister, Ivy, lost their mother to cancer and were raised by their father--a bookie and a drinker. In a more serious paragraph, Eleanor gives us insights into her daily struggles:

For those of you who aren’t children of alcoholics, hear me now and believe me later: It’s the single determining factor in your personality. I don’t care if you get straight A’s, marry a saint, and break the glass ceiling in a male-dominated profession, or if you bounce around from failure to failure with pit stops in cults and nuthouses: if you were raised by a drunk, you’re above all the adult child of an alcoholic. For a quick trip around the bases, it means you blame yourself for everything, you avoid reality, you can’t trust people, you’re hungry to please (p. 46).

Eleanor raises herself and her sister--their co-dependence continuing through their adult years. The rift that occurs within that relationship has repercussions that echo long after the event and affects all aspects of her life.

What is unique about Today Will Be Different is Semple’s blend of empathy and humor. Eleanor is an unreliable narrator in that she lacks self-awareness. She is also judgmental and mocking. Her opinions concerning Bucky, Ivy’s social climbing husband, are uproariously funny, as are her viewpoints on New Orleans’ upper classes. As in her first book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012), Semple’s sardonic wit focuses on life in Seattle. “I was in shock,” she recalls at her first party. Living too long in New York does that to a girl, gives her the false sense that the world is full of interesting people. Or at least people who are crazy in an interesting way” (p. 10).

Today Will Be Different is a funny, heart-warming book with a sympathetic protagonist. It is a light read with a deeper message.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden (attributed to Philo).

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