Courtesy Little, Brown and Company

Maria Semple’s Latest Is a Mean, Flawed Novel About a Mean, Flawed Woman

‘Today Will Be Different’ is the moodier, nastier little sister of ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette.’

Maria Semple’s second novel, Where’d You Go Bernadette, released in 2013, was an international bestseller, the kind of publishing phenomenon that would be difficult for anyone to replicate. I’ve seen it on bestseller walls in bookstores all over the country and in airports all over the world. Something about Semple’s novel appealed to a huge swath of the reading population. Perhaps it had to do with the title character’s hilarious distaste for Seattle, which was at that time just beginning its current controversial boom.

Semple’s gift for comedy (she got her start writing for sitcoms like Mad About You and Arrested Development) ensured that the wealthy Bernadette’s loathing for Seattle’s passive- aggressive, mealy-mouthed manners never gets too caustic. The book wobbles between an unhinged Internet rant and a compassionate study of a woman barely keeping it together. As Bernadette comes to accept herself, she also grows to accept Seattle. Something about that acceptance spoke to millions of readers around the world.

And now Bernadette’s follow-up, Today Will Be Different, has arrived. And there’s no way to ignore this: It’s about a wealthy woman who lives in Seattle but hates it. Different is the story of Eleanor Flood, a woman who, like Semple, lives in downtown Seattle with a long-term partner and a child. Local celebrities like Pete Carroll and Ken Jennings show up, along with barbs about Jazz Alley’s “oily hummus” and Seattle’s nouveau-riche helicopter parents. One day, Eleanor’s son, Timby, comes down with a stomachache, requiring her to pick him up at school. It just happens to be the day that Eleanor’s life comes apart—she suspects her celebrity hand-surgeon husband of having an affair, and memories of her long-lost sister begin to consume her psyche.

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Paul Constant is the co-founder of  The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at

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