Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel
by Maria Semple
Told mainly in the form of emails, faxes, letters, obscure magazine articles, and the occasional police report, this is the story of a fiftyish woman who, twenty years earlier, fled Los Angeles at the height of her architectural genius with a chip on her shoulder, seeking a new life in Seattle with her Microsoft guru husband. The only problem is, Seattle hasn’t provided the solace or fresh start Bernadette was looking for; instead, she suffers multiple miscarriages and then finally gives birth to her daughter Bee, who is born with a defective heart and spends the first five years of her life in and out of the hospital undergoing multiple heart surgeries.
Presently, Bee is fourteen, healthy, and attends a local private school, and Bernadette despises all the other moms. In fact, she pretty much despises everyone, but especially Seattle itself. She has become nearly a shut-in, hiring a virtual assistant in India to run errands for her, and to whom she pours out her thoughts in rambling emails.
Bernadette and her husband, Elgin, promised Bee that if she completed her stint at Galer Street School with straight As, she could have anything she wants. Well, now they have to make good on that promise, and what does Bee want? Why, a family trip to Antarctica, of course. In the course of Bernadette trying to hatch a plan to get out of the trip, and her husband hatching a plan to have her committed to a mental hospital for some “supervised R & R,” Bernadette intervenes in her own intervention and then disappears, seemingly into thin air. Where she disappeared to is anyone’s guess, but plucky Bee is determined to find her.
I was honestly somewhat disappointed in this book; I had read that it’s “one of the best books of the year” and didn’t find it to be so. It was amusing, but not the comedy I expected. Then again, it’s possible that something about it just went over my head. I didn’t become truly interested in the story until about two-thirds of the way through – then I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to know what happened – but up to that point, it was a bit of a slog.
Madcap, mildly entertaining.