“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.”
This is the mantra that Eleanor chants (and since this book is written in the first person it is quite a while before we learn Eleanor’s name – first we know she is Mom to Timby, and she is Joe’s wife, she writes graphic novels, at least she is supposed to be writing one; her husband is a “hand” surgeon who is in much demand in sports circles – we learn all this before we know her name). No matter, the pledge she makes on the very first page tells us plenty about how Eleanor’s life has been going and it seems a bit haphazard, self-absorbed, and borderline clinically depressed. Once she catalogs her faults and commits to change you would think she would catch a break while she tries out her new lifestyle. But right from the very beginning this is a day that cannot be tamed and Eleanor’s creator, Maria Semple, treats us to a manic day that has us (and Eleanor) doubting whether she has already jinxed her life beyond repair. Here is a writer who puts us right inside her character’s head and has us experience this absolutely mind-bending day at the same breakneck speed that it assaults and is assaulted by Eleanor. I have never made a pledge quite this detailed but I have set out to live a day on my own terms and I have found that our best laid plans like to turn and bite us in the butt, just for fun. This book is so good that we fly through it as if the family dog Yo-Yo was pulling us at the end of his leash and when it’s over we’re hardly sure what will happen next – although clearly change is indicated by the events of this whirlwind day. Where does Eleanor’s sister Ivy fit in to the picture? Why doesn’t Timby know that he has an aunt? All is revealed. It’s complicated.
The story ends with Eleanor repeating the same pledge she made the previous day. Although we are unsure, it seems as if she might make some progress after the revelations of the day before. Maria Semple’s current title is Today Will Be Different. She is also the author of the memorable Where’d You Go, Bernadette. She is a true original, and her books are wonderful.