Skip to main content

Today Will Be Different


Today Will Be Different

As I walked into the bookstore-sponsored meet and greet to celebrate Maria Semple’s follow-up to her awesome modern masterpiece, WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE, the Bible for all former artists turned work-at-home moms, I recognized her right away. Actually, I thought she was someone I already knew. She had on a rumpled black pantsuit and a white button-down shirt, open at the neck. Her hair had decided to move in several directions at once, a beguiling lock posited over her searching eyes. Oh, I realized, she is someone I know. She is Bernadette. Maria Semple is Bernadette. Art has become reality, and vice versa.

As I sipped at my strident Mr. Magoo cocktail, I considered how much Semple might be like Eleanor Flood in her new book, TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT, which shouts into the comic void of her universe. How can an otherwise successful and talented mother survive without all the trappings that fall away when you decide to focus on your kid or marriage, or take care of a parent and walk away from the American dream? What happens when you think about getting back in, but no one is waiting at the gate?

Eleanor has had it. She is done with all the things she has given up to become a disposable American mother --- a little flighty, a bit loopy, arguing about what is appropriate snackage at an elementary school Halloween party, trying to decipher what it means when her doctor-to-the-stars husband sits at the breakfast nook, arms splayed out to his sides, his forehead planted on the tabletop, trying to determine if her eight-year-old son Timby might be gay. When Timby feigns illness at school in order to spend a day with his mom, Eleanor discovers the double life that everyone, including herself, has been living --- the friend, a poet, who has a minimum-wage job beyond his grand ambitions; the husband, a doctor who has discovered something missing from his life…and it’s not another woman. There is no one in Semple’s universe who isn’t searching for a new beginning, who isn’t privy to the first world problems of self-identification when it seems as though life needs more than just a basic shake-up.

"It is with utter adoration and also jealousy that I recommend TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT to my fellow readers and friends, the same way that I recommended WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE to everyone who would listen, reading and rereading it at a pace I had only ever reserved for FRANNY AND ZOOEY, MADAME BOVARY and BELOVED."

Unexpectedly, a forgotten lunch appointment turns into an encounter with a former colleague that brings up a long-repressed situation in Eleanor’s life and starts the avalanche of emotional baggage that she and so many around her have tried to shove in a closet and forget about as they moved bravely into middle age. Going back and forth in time, Eleanor fills in the many puzzle pieces that make up her life as it stands --- and offers a glimpse into how going back into the past can propel her forward into the future with all the lights on, her dreams reinvigorated, her real self pushing up from the dead plant that her present life has become. Like the end of CARRIE, Eleanor’s realizations ensure that today will be different --- and her tomorrows, too.

It is with utter adoration and also jealousy that I recommend TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT to my fellow readers and friends, the same way that I recommended WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE to everyone who would listen, reading and rereading it at a pace I had only ever reserved for FRANNY AND ZOOEY, MADAME BOVARY and BELOVED. Semple’s work is deceptively comic and fast-paced and, in this volume, filled with a graphic novel that will stand as testament to the most important part of her past life. The stories are multilayered, and, although these are well-educated women who have had the great joy in life to be artistic successes on a profound and global cultural level (an experience Semple deservedly enjoyed in her pre-novelist life), there are few readers who won’t find the pathos and struggle of her journey towards her new and really authentic self genuine and heartfelt.

Semple is special, a special writer who writes for women and about a woman’s experience in a way that readers of any gender or lifestyle could find an avatar. TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT will find a wide audience of new devoted fans who will respond to her humor and profundity with equal measure. When I asked her if she was already at work on another book, she looked at me and said, “I need a little time to catch my breath.” Although I was saddened that she hadn’t been born with the ability of a Joyce Carol Oates, who can give us three novels in a year’s time, I knew that the only thing to do with such a special talent is to let it both run and rest, so that each book would arrive with its originality intact and delight us the same way her last two novels have.

Today will be different. That’s because you will read TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT, and it will change your life…or at least how you think about what your life can be. After you finish laughing, start at the beginning again while giving copies to everyone you know and love (or who you think need to realize that they must have this book). So I will leave you now, going back in to read TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT for a third time already, and pray that you will do the same. This holiday season, buy a copy for everyone over the age of 40 who is trying to reach a new base camp in their life’s climb; they will thank you for that over and over and over again for years to come.

Lastly, Maria, thanks for TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT. You are a welcome voice in the pantheon of self-help. And yes, it feels like you’re talking just to me, but I know you’re talking to everyone else as well. That’s how you become an iconic writer, and I think you have already earned your perch. So take your rest, but please don’t let it last too long. I know I’ll use your work as signposts for my next 50 years of life, as will all your readers.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on October 14, 2016

Today Will Be Different
by Maria Semple

  • Publication Date: June 27, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316403458
  • ISBN-13: 9780316403450