Archive for the ‘family vacations’ Tag

Vanishing Acts   2 comments


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

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Co., 2012
326 pages

Family Holiday on Ice   5 comments

Mark Haddon’s The Red House is a metaphor for the definition of family;  the meaning can be obscured by comfort or serve as boundaries through which no one should cross. Haddon emphasizes the latter. Estranged brother and sister, Richard and Angela, meet for a family vacation shortly after their mother’s death. Richard’s a doctor and newly married to his second wife. Her 16-year-old daughter is part of the package. Angela and her husband have three children, but she mourns the still-born daughter she lost 18 years ago. These eight family members spend a week together in the English countryside as they tentatively reveal themselves to each other – some with better results than others.

Haddon’s approach is interesting. Each chapter represents one day of the vacation, and everyone’s perspective is provided to set the scene. Initially, it’s difficult, even confusing, keeping track of who’s who. However, as the storyline evolves, more about Angela’s grief is explained, not just from her viewpoint but her husband’s, too. Also, Richard is not as professionally secure as he projects, this from his wife.

Haddon blends the familiar (sulky teenagers) with the uncomfortable (sulky parents). Slowly, observations and experiences round out each character. Jumping from one person to another becomes less awkward. Mostly, the time together leads to everyone’s better understanding of him or herself. Haddon writes, “Behind everything there is a house … compared to which every other house is larger or colder or more luxurious.” Sounds a lot like the way all families are perceived.

The Red House
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2012
264 pages