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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What I’m Reading: Today Will Be Different

Remember, these reviews are now shorter but more useful. Think of each as a 5 minute speed read of the book, for its appeal, to its best reader. [And yes, I timed reading it aloud and it is under 5 minutes]

Today Will Be DifferentToday Will Be Different by Maria Semple is the followup to Where's You Go Bernadette. You can click through to my review on that title if you are interested.

Publisher's Description [via Goodreads]:
A genius novel from the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions when she awakes to a strange, new future unfolding.  
Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret. 
TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.
Appeal: Everything in this book is exaggerated. This is satire to the nth degree. But it also brings the truth. That is the heart of this book-- an over the top look at a privileged life that is laugh out loud funny AND thought provoking.

The story focuses on Eleanor, an extreme exaggeration of a woman who is a mess. She is a loving, caring wife and mother, but as an artist without a project, she has trouble navigating life. She is an anti-hero, yes, but she means well and is extremely sympathetic and engaging, drawing us into her story.

The exaggeration and satire are heavy handed yes, but very funny. Poking fun at life in Seattle, wealthy people problems, raising a responsible 21st century child etc.. But amidst the humorous fails,  that keep you laughing, there is much to learn here. You are laughing one minute and then-- WHAM -- Semple hits you with some hard truths.

These hard truth come in two forms. First, Semple has some family secrets that are eating her up inside.  We see them in the form of a graphic novel she wrote AND in prose flashbacks involving her relationship with her sister. These secrets humanize Eleanor and bring the story back down to earth. But Simple doesn’t wallow in “woe is me” here which is different than most female driven family strife stories. Humor, self deprecation, and bad choices are how she attempts to deal.

Two, the hard truth also comes directly at the reader. Sometimes exaggeration is a great way to get you to look at your own life with fresh eyes. I challenge anyone to read this novel and not rethink something in your own family dynamic. The story sneaks up on you. You are having fun while reading it and thinking it has nothing to do with you and your life, but it does. The issues and ideas stay with you after you close the page. It is a book that increased in enjoyment in a days after I finished. That was cool.

This is a short, fast-paced story with equal action and character development and a thought-provoking yet humorous tone. It would be a great read over the holiday season, if you can handle the introspection into your own family relationships that this novel will bring.

None of us are that different from Eleanor; we just all hide it better.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Sardonic, Flawed but Sympathetic Protagonist, Family Centric

Readalikes: While this is ultimately a family with issues stories I would NOT give it to fans of Jodi Picoult. This novel has none of the melodrama.

I think most people will enjoy other books about being a woman, wife, mother, and sister in today’s world told with sardonic humor. In fact, I first thought of readalikes that are actually memoirs by female comedians like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson. Not only is the humor similar, but Today Will Be Different reads like a confession, as if Eleanor is giving us her memoir in the hopes to figure out who she truly is and where she should take her life next. The women I listed as readalikes do the exact same thing. Plus, memoirs are not all true, and this novel is definitely grounded in the truth of Semple’s life experiences.

Using NoveList, I found this suggestion-- The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, a European bestseller, misadventure, with a sardonic tone, Sounds like a great match. And that got me thinking that the best fiction matches for Today Will Be Different are most likely going to be from European authors. I also found, Butterflies in November by  Audur Ava Olafsdottir. Click through for details as to why it is similar.

The Circle by David Eggers would also be a good choice for those looking for a modern satire that is funny but thought provoking.

As I mentioned above, there is a graphic memoir inside Today Will Be Different. It is a source of Eleanor’s pride but it also is the root of much of her hurt.  A great place to take people after they read this novel is to other personal graphic memoirs about family such as:

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