The Fol­low- Up

Elle (Canada) - - Radar -

In or­der to get to the re­ally in­ter­est­ing part of our dis­cus­sion with au­thor Maria Sem­ple, we’ll have to re­veal a mi­nor spoiler in her new book, To­day Will Be Dif­fer­ent, the tale of what hap­pens when a wo­man wakes up one morn­ing and de­cides to try harder to be a bet­ter hu­man—one who smiles at strangers, is “present,” buys lo­cal, etc. At the risk of hav­ing thou­sands of well-thumbed copies of the Seat­tle au­thor’s smash hit, Where’d You Go, Ber­nadette, flung in our di­rec­tion, well, you’ve been warned: In the course of the nar­ra­tor’s mad­cap day—it in­volves run-ins with char­ac­ters from her past, a faint­ing spell in pub­lic and leav­ing the fam­ily dog be­hind at the har­bour—she ends up tail­ing her hus­band (ac­com­pa­nied by her young son and her po­etry tu­tor) and fol­low­ing him to a church where, un­be­knownst to his athe­ist wife, this lapsed Catholic has be­come a man of faith again: “I thought that mak­ing him a ‘Je­sus guy’ was just the most ra­dioac­tive, fun­ni­est thing I could do be­cause it’s so deeply square and un­cool. I had to do it.” The hus­band char­ac­ter’s con­ver­sion—and sub­se­quent so­lil­o­quy on the pos­si­ble benev­o­lence of the uni­verse and that maybe this means that “every­thing is go­ing to turn out okay”—is the re­sult of Sem­ple’s own grap­pling with, in a nut­shell, des­tiny, fate and the mean­ing of life.

“I’ve al­ways strug­gled with the dif­fer­ence be­tween self­will and God’s will,” says Sem­ple, an athe­ist whose Catholic mother be­moans her daugh­ter’s lack of be­lief. “‘Self-will’ says the world is hos­tile but you need to set a goal, work your ass off and not let any­thing stop you. ‘God’s will’ says things are go­ing to work out the way they work out and there’s noth­ing you can do about it; to think you can change those things is an il­lu­sion and a trap. And, you know, both are vi­able, un­der­stand­able philoso­phies.”

Not an op­tion? Miss­ing out on this hi­lar­i­ous novel, which daz­zlingly, nim­bly dances around some deep stuff (we didn’t even get to the fam­ily drama, the mother-son mic drops and the med­i­ta­tions on the pur­pose of art) with a wit and self-aware­ness that will have you LOL’ing on the sub­way...and maybe shed­ding a teeny-tiny tear.

“‘ Self- will’ says the world is hos­tile but you need to set a goal, work your ass off and not let any­thing stop you. ‘ God’s will’ says things are go­ing to work out the way they work ouT.”

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