Author: Maria Semple
Eleanor Flood decides to take hold of her life and start anew. No more complaints, she’s going to revitalize her sex life with her doctor husband Joe, and, she’s going to spend some much-needed quality time with her eight-year-old son, Timby. However, everything goes wrong when Eleanor needs it to go right, and when a family secret is brought to the light, Eleanor unravels.
Awful, thy name is Eleanor Flood.
Before I jump into this thing, I just want to know something. When in the publishing world, did all editors, reviewers, and, agents use “poignant”, “humane”, and “hilarious” to describe a character who is so fucked and annoying it’s painful? Follow up, when did those same words become code for “This character is such shit at their lives, it makes me feel better about being such shit in mines.”?
I need to know.
This book was not a pain to read, but a pain to comprehend, and it’s all because I’m reading through the POV of the most entitled, obnoxious, and self-sabotaging woman in all of the literary world.
(I’ve read like, ten books, so trust me on this.)
The first chapter of this book used the phrase “white people problems,” and I took this as a sign that this book would be self-aware, and not the least bit vexing in nature.
First things first, Eleanor does not like her kid (who she named Timby because of autocorrect. My god). There’s no way around it. I’m pretty sure the only reason she bothered with the whole “giving birth” thing was so she could raise a child so much better than anyone’s else’s kid. How could she not, she’s Eleanor Flood. She leaves him alone in public places and with strangers to run around and act like a maniac, and every interaction with him has her drilling on some negative aspect of this poor child’s life. I didn’t even know eight-year-olds could have so many negative aspects until Eleanor so helpfully pointed them out.
In. Every. Chapter.
Everybody sucks but her, according to Eleanor. She’s friends with a woman but hates her completely because she’s boring. Seattle is full of idiots, not like precious New York City (I say this as someone who tucked in Queens, NY right now), and blaming her for being messed up is wrong because her mother died and her father was an alcoholic. Self-awareness doesn’t apply to Eleanor because she recognizes she’s a mess and that’s self-aware enough, right?
And because of Eleanor’s shitty, pessimistic world-view, every character in this book sucks in their own special little way. Nobody here is without fault in this book. Not even her damn dog, Yo-Yo.
The big “plot” in this book is that the day that Eleanor decides to change her life, things go slightly wrong. To Eleanor, that means the day is ruined. She always works in absolutes, it’s so frustrating. Her son wants her to pick him up from school because he has a stomach ache. Eleanor knows he’s lying so it puts her in a snit. When she finds out that he doesn’t want to go to school because he’s being bullied, she makes it about herself. She comforts him, but barely. She thinks her husband is hiding something (an affair, obviously), she drags her son around Seattle trying to find him.
She does find him, after abandoning her son several times with people no more than strangers, not motorboating his secretary, but rehearsing to sing in the Choir for his congregation for the arrival of the Pope in Seattle.
This is devastating to Eleanor, of course. Her husband who was a staunch atheist with an incredible contempt for the Catholic Church, being a former Catholic himself, had found God after a nervous breakdown, which was caused pretty much by Eleanor. Oh, it’s not devastating because her husband had a nervous breakdown, it’s because he’s boring and normal now! God isn’t cool!
(This isn’t me being preachy BTW, I’m an atheist myself.)
Of course, Eleanor makes this even more about herself. Joe turned to Christ because she’s a terrible wife! (True, but still) She cries, kicks, screams and demands to know why a man of almost fifty who had been raised under God, would suddenly turn back to him after living with a headcase like herself.
She causes such a scene that a security dog attacks her and she has to be rushed to the hospital.
I’m going to pause to express that Eleanor is a terrible wife, mother, and all-around person. Her husband had to hide something as innocuous as going to Church from her because she was so holier than thou and judgemental of everything, including the man she loved.
And that big family secret? The fact she had family at all honestly. Apparently, she never told anyone in Seattle about her sister Ivy because they have a poor relationship with each other. That never gets resolved, by the way. The book also never circles around to the fact that Eleanor is a damn klepto!
The book ends with Eleanor packing up her house to move back to NYC, where Joe is going to Columbia to get a degree in Deaconry. She then vows the next day with be different.
Hopefully, it’s because she decides to check herself into an institution.