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Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel Paperback – April 2, 2013
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"Comedy heaven.... This divinely funny, many-faceted novel...leaves convention behind. Instead, it plays to Ms. Semple's strengths as someone who can practice ventriloquism in many voices, skip over the mundane and utterly refute the notion that mixed-media fiction is bloggy, slack or lazy.... The tightly constructed WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is written in many formats-e-mails, letters, F.B.I. documents, correspondence with a psychiatrist and even an emergency-room bill for a run-in between Bernadette and Audrey. Yet these pieces are strung together so wittily that Ms. Semple's storytelling is always front and center, in sharp focus. You could stop and pay attention to how apt each new format is, how rarely she repeats herself and how imaginatively she unveils every bit of information. But you would have to stop laughing first."―Janet Maslin, The New York Times
You don't have to know Seattle to get Maria Semple's broadly satirical novel.... Underlying the nontraditional narrative are insights into the cost of thwarted creativity and the power of mother-daughter bonds, although a reader may be having too much fun to notice."―O, The Oprah Magazine
"Delightfully droll.... Semple...cuts a wry slice of a life-one that's populated by private school helicopter parents, obsessively eco-conscious neighbors, and green-juice swilling, TED-talking husbands-and one that's sharp enough to make us feel slightly relieved about not having to live anywhere quite so bucolic."―Megan O'Grady, Vogue
"The characters in Where'd You Go, Bernadette may be in real emotional pain, but Semple has the wit and perspective and imagination to make their story hilarious. I tore through this book with heedless pleasure."
―Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom
"There's a lot to like in Semple's charming novel, including the vivacious humor and the lesson that when creative forces like Bernadette stop creating, they become 'a menace to society.' Even more appealing is the mutually adoring mother-daughter relationship at its warm heart."―Heller McAlpin, NPR
"In her second novel...Semple pieces together a modern-day comic caper full of heart and ingenuity....a compelling composite of a woman's life-and the way she's viewed by the many people who share it. As expected from a writer who has written episodes of Arrested Development, the nuances of mundane interactions are brilliantly captured, and the overarching mystery deepens with each page, until the thoroughly satisfying dénouement."―Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
"A comedic delight..."―Family Circle
"Agoraphobia and Antarctica are among the elements in Maria Semple's terrific novel."―Parade
"Semple's affecting characters, not-necessarily-nice humor and surprising plot twists make this novel an enchanting ride."―Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
"Warm, dark, sad, funny-and a little bit screwball.... This is an inventive and very funny novel that gets bonus points for transcending form."―Susan Coll, The Washington Post
"[A] cracklingly smart family dramedy.... [I was] stunned and transported by this extraordinarily powerful and intelligent novel."―Lev Grossman, Time
"Brilliant, hilarious, endlessly inventive, and compulsively readable, WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE grabs you by the collar and never lets go. Semple is not only a masterful juggler, and an astute social critic, she is a magician!"―Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here
"A funny, quirky and wildly entertaining read."―Ladies' Home Journal
"WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a pure pleasure.... Semple's light touch and glittering prose keep things aloft."―Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
"Full of endearing moments and sublime satire, WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is 'divinely funny' literature."―The Week
"It was only a matter of time before Maria Semple turned her hilariously wicked, razor-sharp, acid-etched humor loose on Seattle, and set her impeccable laser sights on the heart of Microsoft. At times a tears-to-your-eyes laugher that skewers my own home town (and quite possibly my own mother), WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is also a compassionate look at family dysfunction, the paralysis of genius, and good old-fashioned parental love. Cleverly constructed and brilliantly executed, Semple has driven this one home with great authority, and has proven, once again, that she ranks among contemporary literature's finest satirists."―Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
"Find your patron saint of fed-up-ed-ness in our fave summer read, WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE.... You'll laugh your pants off, and love the takeaway-that a life gone off the rails can propel you in a bright new direction."―Redbook
"If you read only one book this summer about an agoraphobic mother and her broken promise to take her daughter Bee on a trip to Antarctica, make it this one.... Semple writes like an oversized plume, finding all your tickle spots with ease."―Holley Simmons, Washington Post Express
"A smart, caperish, very contemporary novel about marriage, mores and family life by an observer who knows the cultural landscape."―Jeffrey Ann Goudie, The Kansas City Star
"Achingly funny and perfectly timed....Semple has a big heart, and possess that rare ability to skewer, dissect and empathize with her targets, all at the same time....Read BERNADETTE, laugh loud and long, then take a good look in the mirror."―Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times
"A delightfully funny book, that constantly catches one by surprise, WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE combines a shrewdly observed portrait of Seattle-life with, of all things, a mysterious disappearance in Antarctica. A pleasure."―Matthew Kneale, author of When We Were Romans
"If you're not taking a vacation this summer, a dive into Semple's comedic melting pot of family dysfunction, hyperactive parenting, and mental unraveling offers a hilarious escape. You'll find yourself rooting for the runaway parent in a narrative that is dark, funny, and completely human."―Tanya Jensen, Los Angeles Confidential
"Sharp and funny, a literary page turner..."―Susannah Cahalan, New York Post
"Semple...has the feel for family strife of a born literary novelist, but she retains the comedic sensibility of a screen writer; which is to say that the book is actually laugh-out-loud funny, rather than "humorous." And don't let the hilarity of the first third of the book fool you into thinking that this is a light farce; by the last page, Semple, in addition to skewering helicopter-parents with satire so deft that it could pass for truth, touches on religion, class, and what we owe to those we love."―Nicholas Mancusi, The Daily Beast
"An uproarious comedy of manners."―Mark Haddon, People
"This brilliant satire (think Portlandia, set in Seattle) is inventive and wickedly funny."―Whole Living
"With a sure feel for the screwball and the slapstick, Maria Semple deliciously sends up the privileged, overachieving, PC world of Emerald City. WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a crazy quilt of an epistolary novel, utterly contemporary yet pleasingly old-fashioned, and always light and witty."―Stewart O'Nan, author of The Odds
"Semple's snappy writing and spot-on humor make this one of the funniest beach reads of the summer."―Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[A] high-energy, often hilarious epistolary novel."―Brangien Davis, Seattle Magazine
"A smart, intelligent, nuanced tale whose characters will stick with you long after you finish the last page."―Karen M. Thomas, The Dallas Morning News
"Jonathan Franzen endorsed it...and we weren't aware that he liked anything, so we felt inclined to pick it up. We now see why he enjoyed it so much."―Zoë Triska, Huffington Post
"Semple is the novelist of the moment-a Ben Fountain for the latte set....outrageously funny and deceptively deep, [BERNADETTE] is a rewarding read."―Tucker Shaw, The Denver Post
"With its big heart set on acceptance, BERNADETTE feels something like coming home."―Paul Constant, The Stranger
"A shrewd yet compassionate portrait of family dysfunction and the volatility of genius in laugh-out-loud, irresistibly high-spirited prose.... WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE takes readers on an original and movingly imaginative adventure."―Catherine Straut, Elle
"Semple's ear for satirizing this world is sharp and scathingly funny; she could probably turn her novel into a stand-up act."―Stewart Oksenhorn, The Aspen Times
"Semple, once a writer for Arrested Development, picks apart the mundane interactions of everyday life with a hilarious hand, and you're sure to be as swept up in this witty, inventive mystery as we were."―Emily Temple, Flavorpill
"WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is fresh and funny and accomplished, but the best thing about it was that I never had any idea what was going to happen next. It was a wild ride..."―Kate Atkinson, author of Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog
"Maria Semple dissects the gory complexities of familial dysfunction with a deft and tender hand. WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a triumph of social observation and black comedy by a skillful chronicler of moneyed malaise."―Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers
"[An] engrossing and whip-smart modern epistolary novel..."―Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
"Semple paints each character with depth and tenderness while keeping the tone upbeat; no easy feat for a novel about a mother who pulls a disappearing act."―Korina Lopez, USA Today
"[A] romp of a novel.... Semple...nail[s] Seattle's idiosyncrasies in wickedly funny send-ups."―Barbara Lloyd McMichael, The Bellingham Herald
"Utterly delightful....Semple used to write for the revered cult hit Arrested Development, and she brings plenty of squirming comedy to the novel, which manages to be that rare good read that actually makes you feel good at the end. Her send-up of Seattle is hilarious, with its Victims Against Victimhood support groups, moms offering organic gardeners swiss chard in lieu of payment, and teachers who are so PC that fourth graders are expected to seriously debate the pros and cons of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. But the heart of the book belongs to Bee, who, as an admissions counselor puts it, tests off the charts for grit and poise; and her mother, who, for all her neuroses, did a bang-up job of turning out one terrific kid."―Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor
"A quirky novel, laugh-out-loud funny in parts, filled with erudite cultural commentary, and teeming with life's predictable messiness, as well as its limitless potential for unexpected joy."―Kathryn Justice Leache, The Commercial Appeal
"A touching and hilarious portrait of the anxiety producing, high powered Seattle lifestyle of a somewhat eccentric family of three (and their dog Ice Cream).... This is a great read, well written and populated by characters you care about deeply."―Ruth Freeman, The Norwalk Citizen
"Stands to become a cult favorite.... Like Jane Austen-who set the gold standard for social satire-Semple's most ridiculous characters are convinced that they're the normal ones, and it's wonderful fun to watch as they behave abominably, believing themselves blameless.... Semple has a keen ear for the nuances of different voices, and it's a joy to get to know these people.... Bernadette is...marvelous. Her rants read like the best comedy routines.... It's the rare book that actually deserves the term "laugh-out-loud funny," but I found myself reading passages from almost every page to anyone who would listen, even as I could barely articulate the words through my own laughter."―Malena Watrous, San Francisco Chronicle
"Intertwined with the funny stuff is the heartfelt story of a personal crisis of a creative talent who's slipped off the rails... Bernadette's journey is fresh, funny, and thought provoking."―Anne Payne, The Florida Times-Union
"Comic lines and...fast-paced events."―Nan Willard Cappo, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"I don't even know where to begin with how fantastic it is.... I ate up the Microsoft-obsessed setting and the fabulous, mad-but-not-really Bernadette. Go, get it, thank me later."―Megan Angelo, Glamour.com
"If wacky, anxiety-prone geniuses are some of your favorite people, then pick up Maria Semple's WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE to add Bernadette Fox and her family to your list of hilarious companions. Bernadette and company don't mind cursing, so if you do, please be warned. But if not, then you've got a stamped passport to Semple's expertly crafted and rollicking, laugh-till-you-cry adventure that will have you tearing through the pages to find out if Bernadette is gone for good."―Dawn Andrus Paine, Daily Herald (Utah)
"Well-plotted and masterfully satirical.... WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is really, really funny, and not in the usual way that suggests the author is trying to be funny to cover up their deficiencies in plot or styling. As it turns out, Maria Semple is both a good writer and a funny writer, but she prefers to be the latter."―Janet Potter, The Millions
"Sublime..."―Frank Bruni, on his blog for The New York Times
"With only her second book, TV writer-turned novelist Maria Semple has won rave reviews with a withering, but ultimately affectionate satire of Seattle's privileged set."―Chris Michaud, Reuters
"If Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl represented the dark heart of the summer literature, Maria Semple's...BERNADETTE embodies the sunnier, funnier side.... Semple has a flair for satire and screwball jinks, and she has produced a great gift to avid readers: a book that you never want to finish reading."―Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
"An epistolary novel for the twenty-first century.... Paced like a beach read, BERNADETTE has a scathing wit and a casual storytelling style that pulls the reader in and forces her to listen."―Capital Times' blog
"One of the funniest stories you can read this year."―Donna Liquori, The Albany Times Union
"A powerful mosaic of mental illness, artistic temperament, and family melodrama.... Semple's background in television and comedy... provide[s] the foundation for this subversively funny novel and its all-too-rare blend of humor and heart.... In a time when everything is a version of something else, how extraordinary-and exciting-to read a novel that subverts conventions to create an experience that feels so fresh."―Jeremy Medina, The L Magazine
"This book is hysterical, kind of wacky, and utterly original."―Entertainment Weekly's "The Bullseye"
"One of the big burst-of-oxygen books this year.... clever and inventive but also genuine and heartfelt."―Gillian Flynn for The New York Times' "Inside the List"
"Semple's epistolary novel satirizes Seattle, Microsoft, helicopter parents, the elite, and the overeducated-while revealing truths about family, genius, ambition, and resilience."―Gillian Flynn, GQ
[A] clever story of family dysfunction."―Dailycandy
"Marketed as a beach read, give this to your soccer moms who have come to the realization that maybe they aren't 'all that.' With a Tiffany-blue cover, it's wrapped perfectly!"―Michelle Will, The Kitsap Sun
"A quirky comic masterpiece...about an irresistibly precocious teen and her awesomely agoraphobic mom.... BERNADETTE is an ingenious, enjoyable, continually surprising farce."―David Hiltbrand, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"In appearance, this may be the perfect beach read to go with your retro bikini. Inside the cover, Semple's novel is funny, suspenseful, multi-faceted, multi-media, and sad, too - spot-on social commentary..."―Jen Doll, The Atlantic Wire
"Unputdownable!"―Sumana Ghosh-Witherspoon, Parents.com
"A hilarious, nasty, heartfelt satire about parenting, privilege, genius, resilience and life in Seattle."―Gillian Flynn on Today
"It's the first epistolary novel I've ever loved, and sharp as hell."―Emma Straub for Salon
"Few novels will make you laugh aloud the way Semple's satiric take on a disintegrating Seattle family does."―The Charlotte Observer
"Stunningly astute.... Beyond its ethnographic value as a snapshot of the underlying hypocrisies of the way the top five percent lives now, WYGB delivers at least one knowing chuckle per page in an innovative structure worthy of its own TED Talk."―Christina Spines, Word & Film
"This funny and heartfelt novel has it all: love, mystery, infidelity, and humor. The complications of human life are on full display and examined with absurdity."―Laura Anderson, BLOGCRITICS.ORG
"Tart [and] searingly funny."―Jessica Grose, Fast Company
"Clever, witty and laugh-out-loud funny. And that's a rare and wonderful thing."―The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"The romp that ensues throughout Semple's sophomore novel is cleverly crafted, and allows the reader to develop strong ties to the author's masterfully drawn...[and] quirky characters."―Shelly Walston, The Wichita Eagle
"Delicious, funny, irreverent, [and] smart..."―Minnesota Reads
"Really, really funny.... A novel of refuge if you find yourself, like Bernadette, bogged down by the peskiness of privilege."―Stacey Pavlick, Spectrum Culture
"Fast-paced and compulsively readable...and beneath its nimble storytelling is a resonant exploration of a mother and daughter's unbreakable bond."―Elliott Holt, The Morning News Tournament of Books
"Maria Semple brings her A game."―Chicago Now
"A lovely story of a creative lull."―Jessa Crispin, Architect Magazine
"Seriously funny and clever."―In Touch Weekly
"Wildly creative."―Jennifer Haupt, Psychology Today
"A tremendously entertaining work of social satire combined with a mystery that kept me wondering what would happen next right up to the end."―Boing Boing
"[A] dazzling satire.... One of 2012's most hilarious books."―The Brooklyn Eagle
"A truly inventive mother-daughter story full of offbeat characters, clever humor and drama both intrapersonal and interpersonal."―Laura Pearson, Time Out Chicago
"Smart [and] entertaining."―Ihsan Taylor, New York Times Book Review
"To say this book is quirky would be something of an understatement. It is also very funny, snarky, smart, occasionally confusing, and cleverly constructed."―Aspen Daily News
"Funniest book since the invention of the printing press."―Gary Shteyngart for Entertainment Weekly
About the Author
Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles, where she also wrote for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. She escaped from
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Top Customer Reviews
Bernadette, an LA transplant living in Seattle, was once America's girl-architect phenom. Now she's all but agoraphobic, living in an historic home for wayward girls she's tried to thought about making into a home for her family. Bernadette has been hiding from the world for twenty years and thinks she likes it that way. (Her feuds with the stay-at-home moms at her daughter's exclusive school and her visceral dislike of all things Seattle might lead the reader to come to another conclusion about her happiness, however.) Daughter Bee was dearly conceived and barely survived a life-threatening heart defect at birth; her first few years were touch and go. Bee is a gifted young woman with a heart of gold and a wit that's sharp; she has soared through her first eight years of school and is on her way to Choate. Dad and husband Elgin Fox is a whiz at Microsoft and rarely at home.
There is conflict aplenty in Where'd you go. A battle royale with a neighbor--actually make that two neighbors; Bernadette has issues with people. An admin (that's an administrative assistant in Microsoft speak) who's also a home-wrecker. A house that has boarded off rooms and blackberry vines growing up through the floorboards. Top it all off with a trip to Antarctica that no one in the family really wants to take except Bee. Oh, and did I mention Bernadette that does her shopping and appointment making via a virtual assistant from Delhi, India named Manjula?
Now these unconventional characters were dealing with some pretty serious matters and when Bernadette disappears (that's the where'd you go part) I was a bit worried that the novel would take a U-turn and end up in A Lesson For Modern Times territory.
But no worries. It's madcap. It's zany. And you'll smile the whole way through this read, I guarantee.
I can honestly say I laughed all the way through this book. Author Maria Semple was able to create word pictures that sucked the reader into the novel until you felt wet in Washington and cold at the south pole. I enjoyed every word of this book and have recommended it to all my friends.
“Where'd You Go, Bernadette” is an epistolary novel with lots of back and forth e-mails, letters, and journal entries. The main characters are Bernadette and Elgin Branch and their daughter, Bee. They live in the Silicon Valley; Elgin works for Microsoft, as one of their brightest innovators. Bernadette gave up her architecture career to marry Elgin. She was so good she received the genius grant, and her “20 Mile House” was a precurser of the green movement. She basically used only materials from a twenty mile radius.
Bernadette had several miscarriages before giving birth to Bee. Bee had a heart disease, however. Bernadette and Elgin used Bernadette's genius money to buy a former school for troubled girls that stood high on a hill overlooking the city. Bernadette was not an easy person to get along with. Blackberry bushes grew below the house. A neighbor wanted them gone, but they served a purpose; when it rained in Seattle, they absorbed mud slides. Bernadette agreed to remove the bushes, but she also knew what would happen if she did. Bernadette refers to her neighbor and all the other mothers who go to Bee's school as “gnats”.
Then Bee gets the equivalent of all A's on her report card, and Elgin and Bernadette had promised she could pick where they went on vacation if she did. She picked Antarctica. They go, but not in the order that one would expect. As the title implies, Bernadette disappears after Elgin has a tepid affair with one of the gnats, who now has a job working for him as an administrator.
The rest of the book deals with Antarctica, a cruise ship, several research vehicles, some of the scientists who work there, the different kinds of penguins, some of which are really mean, believe it or not. Don't try to pet one.
The theme of the book has to do with genius; Bernadette is the way she is because she gave up what she was good at, architecture, and Elgin didn't realize it until it was almost too late. Bernadette isn't always plotting against the gnats. She treats Bee more like a sister than a daughter and she can be funny, calling Bee a “little rotter.”
There's a blurb on the cover from Jonathan Franzen. Remember him? He didn't want to be picked for Oprah's book club because he was a literary writer. He says about this book, “I tore through this book with heedless pleasure,” pretty high praise from someone who is mostly self-absorbed. I didn't like it that much, but I thought Bernadette was an original character, somewhat of a rarity these days on the best-seller list.
The book is by turns hilarious and touching. It skewers helicopter parents, high tech, and Seattle. It also focuses on mother-daughter relationships, family dynamics, and creativity. The main characters, including Elgin the father and husband, are unforgettable. This is a book that makes you feel good!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The most engaging, clever book I have ever read.
I found myself laughing out load and reading sections to total strangers on the subway.Read more