Today Will Be Different...

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A couple of years ago I read the novel Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple for one of my book clubs, and really enjoyed it. If I remember right most of the gals did, and we had some good laughs during our discussion of the lead character and her shenanigans. Semple's new book Today Will Be Different felt very similar...and yet not.

The book starts with Eleanor's manifesto, which sounds eerily similar to one I have said to myself on numerous mornings over the years:
"Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I’ll play a board game with Timby. I’ll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different."
She starts her day with what most would say are fairly simple goals...and the book covers a day in her life. But what a day it is!! The chaos that ensues during this one day is so over-the-top and crazy. The only breather comes during a huge chunk of flashback that is tossed in during an odd location, written in a different style and could've been it's own book it felt so different from the rest of the story.

Eleanor is married to Joe. He's an  orthopedic surgeon to the stars (namely the Seattle Seahawks) and they have a precocious son Timby (named after a ridiculous Iphone autocorrect). They live a fairly happy existence in a wealthy neighborhood in Seattle. She used to be a fancy schmancy animator in New York City, but decided to do the mom thing and move out west. The best part of her day is poetry class with Alonzo.

Eleanor's day-in-the-life on steroids starts with noticing her husband slumped over the newspaper with his head on the table in defeat. He quickly jumps up in the hopes that she hasn't noticed, so she tries to ignore it. She drops the boy off for school and heads off to her one on one poetry class. The school calls in the middle of her recitation to say that Timby has a stomach-ache, and she needs to pick him up. The rest of the day is one thing after another, culminating in Eleanor face-planting off a stage during a choral concert for the Pope.

To go into much more detail would ruin this for any other reader, but at 259 pages it's a short, chaotic ride. Once I picked it up, I didn't stop reading until I'd finished the entire book. Maria Semple writes quirky extremely well, and the characters in this book are definitely quirky. I think it gets 4 stars just for her young son's covert affection for makeup.

My only big complaint with this book is, like I said up above, the flashback section right in the middle of the book. To me it felt out of place, and like it belonged to a totally different story. Her issues with her sister felt like both the most important thing in her life, and like a tagged on bit that didn't mesh with the rest. I'm not sure how I feel about it, honestly.

I think this would be a good book club selection. It's a short and quick read, and it has some great conversation fodder about parenting, spirituality, family and really the habit a lot of women have of beating themselves up for not being better...more perfect, etc. The story is bookended with Eleanor doing that "Today will be different" pep talk, and I know just speaking for myself, I could have an entire evening of girl talk just devoted to THAT.

So, I'm giving this one 4 stars. It has it's issues, but overall I enjoyed it. I almost want to say it's a deep book in a shallow exterior, but that doesn't make a lot of sense. It's a fun, quirky easy read that holds a few nuggets of deep introspection. Or something like that...

Are you a Maria Semple fan? Have you ever given yourself a pep talk before crawling out of bed in the morning?? Let me know in the comments here or over on my Facebook page.

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