Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is engaging, funny, poignant, and even a bit silly. Set primarily in Seattle, the story also includes a few situations in Los Angeles and the Antarctic as Bernadette Fox tries to ward off a nervous breakdown in an environment seemingly designed to push her over the edge.
Bernadette is a semi-misanthrope; she dislikes nearly everyone except her husband, Elgie, and their daughter, Bee. Bernadette doesn’t make it easy to like her. She refuses to get involved with the parent groups at Bee’s school, and she avoids interaction – no matter how casual – with others to such an extreme that she relies on a virtual personal assistant who lives in India.
Semple has created an appealing dysfunctional family that has trouble meshing with an often-dysfunctional world. Bernadette, a one-time architect, is, in fact, a genius; she’s a past recipient of a McArthur Foundation Genius Grant. But she responds to stressful situations through radical reactions, including disappearing. Bernadette’s story is told through emails, letters and mostly Bee’s eyes. Bee is no intellectual slouch herself. She’s convinced there’s a logical explanation for her mother’s absence. And here’s where the real adventure begins as Bee sets off to find Bernadette.
Russian spies, potential identity thieves, private school students, and parents blind to their children’s excesses and foibles are just a few of the extras populating Semple’s novel. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud situations as well as a few shoulder-shrugging moments as Bee, who has a very good understanding of her mother, refuses to stop looking.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Little, Brown and Co., 2012