I will admit that there have been days when I’ve awakened and run through a pep talk similar to the one on the first page of Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different, the follow-up to her blockbuster Where’d You Go, Bernadette? “Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply… Today I will take pride in my appearance… 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 will be different.”
Of course, what would be the point of this comic novel if Eleanor Flood’s day actually did result in her becoming her “best self, the person I’m capable of being”? Instead, everything goes disastrously wrong, careening from bad to worse.
Even if I could sometimes relate to Eleanor, though, I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, which seems like a lesser version of Bernadette (once again, the protagonist is a Seattle mom who wishes she lived elsewhere, with a kid who goes to the tony Galer Street School). Right at the beginning, we hear from Eleanor’s first-person voice: “You’re trying to figure out, why the agita surrounding one normal day of white-people problems?” I kept asking myself that same question as the book progressed.
The book takes place on a single day, though there are occasional third-person flashbacks filling us in on things in Eleanor’s past, and these are the best parts of the book. First-person Eleanor just isn’t very likable, and I say that as somebody who has stood up for “unlikable” female protagonists many times in the past. She’s almost pathologically self-absorbed, and not particularly interesting.
To wit, a minor spoiler: at one point, Eleanor ties her dog (a Boston Terrier-pug mix!) to a cart rack in a big box store parking lot, and then forgets about him. At the very end of the book, she finally goes to retrieve him and fortunately, he’s OK, but I spent the last half of the book thinking to myself, “But what about the dog?” For me, that was simply a bridge too far. This reader never forgot about you, Yo-Yo!