Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple, author; Kathleen Wilhoite, narrator
This amusing tale about what seems to be a perfect family will make the reader laugh out loud as the main character, Eleanor, bounces from crisis to crisis, many of her own making, many caused by her own rash decisions. Eleanor had been the animation director of a very successful television program called Looper Wash. Her husband Joe was a renowned hand surgeon. They moved to Seattle with the expectation that they would live there for ten years, and then, they would move back to New York City for ten years. Joe wanted to live in Seattle; Eleanor wanted to live in New York City. They had a child, Timby, who was simply delightful. They lived in a nice house, had a nice dog and were relatively happy together. They seemed content with their lives, but beneath the surface, trouble was brewing for each of them, and it plays out, with humor and a bit of sarcasm for each reader to enjoy.
When the book begins, Eleanor declared that today would be different. She would get up, dress properly and behave when she met people. She would be kind; she would be responsible. She would be relaxed, and do the things everyone did, without a problem. She would be more interactive with friends and her husband. However, she had no filter and often lost her temper and lashed out impetuously, without thinking first. Afterward, often she would calm down, think more rationally and try to move on with her life more thoughtfully. Still, she was very judgmental; she often made rude remarks and then second guessed what she had said later on, when it was too late. At first she seemed totally consumed with herself and her own needs, but after her background was revealed, it was somewhat understandable and she became a more sympathetic character. There were relatives in her past who were “ghosts” in her closet. Joe was the calming element in her life; he was the one who kept her centered.
Ten years had passed, and Eleanor noted that nothing had been said about moving back to New York City. Her angst was building. She was well aware of the fact that although she was still very much in love with Joe, and he was still in love with her, their relationship had settled into a comfortable routine. She vowed to change this.
How Eleanor spent this momentous day that she vowed would be different is actually hilarious. She goes from crisis to crisis with her third grader son, whom she had to pick up early from school because he didn’t feel well. However, on this day, she also discovered that she had double booked a lunch date. She decided to bring Timby to his dad’s medical office, hoping to leave him there so she could keep her appointment and straighten out her schedule. What she discovered when she got to Joe’s office was very troubling for her. He was not there, and she had no idea where he had gone. Now she knew that there were secrets between the, that she had been unaware of, and she sets out to find Joe, or at least, to find out what he is up to that had caused this need to be secretive. As she investigated, she got herself into difficult situations, and she jumped to some pretty radical conclusions before she calmed herself down. In several situations, Timby often assumed the role of the adult in the room. He attempted to calm her down when she overreacted and he soothed her when she got hurt. He was relaxed while she was frenzied.
After Eleanor found Joe, she learned that he had recently had a surprising epiphany that he had not shared with her. It was life changing. Her reaction was typical. She jumped to conclusions without thinking. However, true to form, she calmed down and became more rational, and enabled a conversation rather than an over-reaction. However, it was her over-reactions that were so funny and unbelievable.
Although it was an easy read, it was not as engaging as her book, Where’d You Go Bernadette?” The highlight of the book was Timby. He will win every reader’s heart with his innocent comments and his sincere attempts to comfort and guide his mother. He seemed so sweet and innocent that there will be nary a reader who will not want to hug Timby and wish he belonged to them! He had no guile and often appeared far more clear-headed and level-headed than Eleanor! It was Timby who drew me in and kept me involved in the book. The narrator imbued him with so much innocence and heart that he became irresistible. His mother, however, sometimes became a bit tiresome invoking the opposite reaction, possibly making the reader want to throttle her for the way she sometimes spoke to Timby and went off the deep end, more often than not, creating a crisis where there was none. Timby seemed to have greater insight into his mother’s personality than she had into his. He rose above each situation while she became overwhelmed with it. He was adaptable and well-behaved. He was like the perfect child in spite of her!
Written with humor that was sometimes laugh out loud and that had a somewhat sarcastic edge, Eleanor came to life with her little boy beside her. The reader will wonder when they turn the last page, was this day different for Eleanor? Will the next day be different? Who is the real Eleanor, and should she change? Is her charm part of her natural personality or the one she wishes she had? What was it in Eleanor’s past that shaped her defensive and impetuous behavior? Where would she go from here?