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Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel Paperback – April 2, 2013
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"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
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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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.
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!
They are planning on taking a trip to Antarctica over Christmas break, a reward for Bee's perfect report card. But things start going awry. And then Bernadette disappears...
This is a strange story told in an unique way. It's told by Bee with the help of emails, letters from school personnel, police reports, medical reports, invoices, etc. This book is satirical; certainly not a book anchored in "everyday life" realism. In this regard, it reminds me a bit of Rachael Joyce's "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye".
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" isn't for everyone. Of course you can say that about every book ever published, but that goes double here. I would've given up on it if not for a reading buddy who pushed me to stick it out. The characters are not likable in the beginning (or understandable), especially Bernadette. But once I got through the first quarter, I was invested in the story. And when I reached the last page, I realized wisps of Bee, Bernadette, and Elgin have been written in my memory bank with a permanent marker. They'll fade, but never completely leave.
Can't possibly give this less than 4 stars.