Monday, July 1, 2013
Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Author: Maria Semple
Enjoyment Rating: ****
This book would be rated: PG-13 for language
Someone told me about this book last week (was it you, Nicole?), and then a few days later, I saw it at Sundance. I had an Audible credit lying around, so I downloaded it, and I listened to it in one manic rush over the weekend, which is exactly how I think Maria Semple would have wanted me to experience the book. Because Where'd You Go, Bernadette, is a manic kind of book. Bernadette Fox used to be an architect. She was even a MacArthur Genius. Then she had a catastrophe at work and her husband sold out to Microsoft and they moved to Seattle, where she became the mother of a very sick child. And Bernadette got lost. All of the energy she had once poured into her houses and her causes got poured into rants about five-way intersections and homeless people and North Face parkas. She became more and more agoraphobic. Instead of remodeling her sprawling home, she let blackberries grow up through the floorboards and destroy the place. And then everything came to a breaking point when her fourteen-year-old daughter, Bea, asked if the family could take a trip to Antarctica.
The book, pieced together by Bea in the form of emails and narrative, is pure fun. Semple does a fantastic job creating the individual voices of the characters, as she satirizes Microsoft culture and the life of the upper-middle-class Seattle resident. The emails sent by the development director at the school, for example, are hysterical in their ruthlessness. But Semple isn't all about the snappy comebacks-- at the heart of this story is three people who love each other deeply despite their dysfunctionality, and who have come to a point where they either need to come together or learn to live separately.