Where'd You Go, Bernadetteby Published 14 Aug 2012
|Where'd You Go, Bernadette.pdf|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
Where'd You Go, Bernadette Ebook Description
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Bernadette Fox has vanished.
When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces--which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where'd You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter's love for her mother.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette Reviews
What we have here is a satirical epistolary novel about a bunch of whiny one percenters in Seattle.
Ms. Semple is sending up Seattle elites, which here seem to be typified by Bernadette's husband Elgie, a granola eating, public transport using, bike riding, Microsoft employee with a genius IQ. She also sets her sights on the students and parents of a Montessori-style preparatory school. I don't feel a particular need to explain what happens, because it's pretty well-traveled stuff.
Where BERNADETTE sets itself apart is the storytelling style. The story here takes the form of a packet of documents that Bernadette's daughter has prepared after Bernadette disappears. These include emails between Elgie's assistant and a disgruntled neighbor, emails between Bernadette and her Indian assistant Manjula, police reports, magazine articles, etc. These documents have a kind of zingy, lighthearted, ironic quality about them, and it makes for an energetic and enjoyable story. Narration between the documents is provided in brief snippets by Bernadette's precocious daughter Bee.
Alas, there are many problems, and the book never lives up to its promise. Semple is trying to have it both ways. Bernadette, for example is a ruthlessly satirized Type A East Coast transplant. We're supposed to find her ridiculous, but we're also expected to fall for her. Semple wants us to believe she's a genius because she won a MacArthur genius grant, even though there's very little else in the way of supporting evidence. She wants us to find Bernadette mysterious and admirable. But I was never really drawn in by Bernadette's positive qualities, or able to find them at all. This wouldn't have been a problem for me if it wasn't so clear that I was supposed to like her.
Also, the title and jacket copy of this book seem to promise that it's about the mysterious disappearance of, and search for, Bernadette. The problem is that Bernadette never really disappears. She leaves briefly, but her reasons for leaving are pretty clear, and it's not hard to guess where she went--the setting of Antarctica, promised by the icy mountains on the cover and tons and tons of buildup throughout, might provide a clue.
But the book suffers the most when the narration switches to Bee full time after the disappearance. This switch is somewhat painstakingly explained, but it felt lazy to me. There had to be a way to keep the form that had been so successful for the first two thirds of the book for the final act. It felt like Semple was trying to write a book that was zany, unique, and inventive, but also perfectly conventional, with all the benefits of both storytelling styles. In my mind, this book depended on the inventiveness of its epistolary style, and abandoning it was disaster.
All in all, worth reading. This is the kind of book that very well could have left me shaking my head and wondering how the author pulled it off, if only she had pulled it off. Ah, well.
I received this in ARC form from the Nervous Breakdown book club, and I hope they dress it up a bit for the hardcover. I think it would be better if the documents appeared in different forms and fonts, if Elgie's handwritten letter appeared handwritten, etc.
I can't close this review without saying that this book's cover is unfortunate. While I did have issues here, this book represents a serious effort, and it deserved a serious cover.
It will be interesting to see what Maria Semple does next.
Well, let this be a lesson to those who would open their mouths and spew venom into the world. I once wrote very publicly and loudly on this here Goodreads that I could never love a satire -- don't even remember which book I was reviewing*. The point is, this book has made me eat my words. This fucking book, man. I loved it. It's my cheese, my oreo cookie, my soft blanket on a cold winter's night, my let's pack everything up and head out for an adventure because FUCK YEAH WE'RE ALIVE. I'm so glad I randomly picked this book up at my library. Like, last second, I was checking out and there it was, and I just grabbed it. Best last minute decision ever.
*Found it! And oh, of course it was a Waugh.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a modern day epistolary novel, but not like one of those ones you read as a teenager with like whiny emails and diary entries from lovelorn pimple-faces, it's like layers and layers of subtle genius. Bee is fifteen and loves her mother, her eccentric and troubled mother, who one day disappears. The book is a meta-compilation supposedly put together by Bee of emails, articles, and other assorted correspondences that tell the story of Bernadette: what made her who she is, and what led up to her disappearance. The first 75% of the book is just a delightful satire, on the wealthy and privileged, on the self-deluded and spiritually empty -- but what really makes it are the bits of real emotion that are constantly peeking through. This story genuinely made me feel things, and like I mean that it in all caps, FEEL THINGS. Plus, it's just wacky. Maria Semple used to work on Arrested Development, if that gives you some idea of what I mean by 'wacky.'
Now, just to warn you, I'm writing this all high off the ending (which was just fucking lovely), so I might be a bit biased, and you might end up reading it and being like, Ashley, what the fuck? Just keep that in mind. But to put it in frame of reference, I liked this book almost as much as I liked Ready Player One (and I fucking love Ready Player One), but it's a different kind of love.
I don't want to say anymore because I just want you to go read the book. I mean it. GO!
Just found this book in my luggage recently, I read it while traveling a while back, and never got around to recording it here. (This happens a lot...)
I'm hesitant to assign a star rating here (more hesitant than usual) Not only did I read this months ago, but the genre isn't one that I spend a lot of time reading.
But where *do* I rank it? I know it didn't anger or disappoint me in any way (I'd remember that) but neither did I feel the need to rush on here and review it, or force it on any of my friends. (I know a book is genuinely good if I feel the need to share it.)
I did enjoy it, and that's saying something, given that it's outside my regular reading habits and I don't think I'm the target audience for the book. It's solidly written, clever and witty in turns, slightly absurdist in its humor, and comes to good resolution.
So.... four stars? Sure. Whatever. Let's call it four. Whatever that means.
If you're the sort of person who only reads fantasy (as I know some of my readers are) be aware this doesn't have any of that in there. Also, female main character here. So if you're one of those dudes who is terrified of catching cooties from a book, look out. There's feelings and shit in this book, and a girl looking for her mother.
Personally, I liked it. If the thought of that makes your nuts retreat protectively up into your body, you might want to think of this as less than four stars. (And possibly consider getting some therapy to work out your unresolved issues.)
If you're someone who enjoys more personal narratives. YA stuff. Or what's typically considered "Chick Lit" (Though I hate that term.) odds are you'll like this more than four stars worth.
A douche canoe that I (probably shouldn't have) dated for a couple months a few years ago once told me that I didn't like Glee because I didn't understand satire. I'd like to hand him this book and say, "Bite me, asshat. This is satire."
I suppose that's an entirely different story. The point is, I loved this book. It's sharp, witty, heartwarming, and entirely entertaining. Of course, it came from someone involved with Arrested Development—should I expect any less?
The first three-fourths of this book are told in the form of email correspondence, magazine articles, even doctors' bills purportedly strung together by fifteen-year-old Bee in an attempt to tell her mother Bernadette's story. Bernadette is the quintessential misunderstood genius. In her thirties, she became one of the few female architects to stand out from the crowd and was eventually awarded a MacArthur genius grant. When project particularly near-and-dear to her heart was destroyed, Bernadette's psyche began to fray. Then her husband, Elgie took a job at Microsoft and the family moved to Seattle. Now, they live in an abandoned home for girls and their daughter has overcome a congenital heart condition to succeed brilliantly at a charter school, whose wannabe-upper-crust parents resent Bernadette's refusal to take part in the community. Bernadette, for her part, is still struggling to get over the heartbreak of her previous life and has developed an agoraphobia so severe that she has hired a virtual personal assistant to take care of her daily errands remotely from India.
As the book begins, Bee is cashing in on the promise her parents made that, if she achieves straight A's, she can have any gift she likes. She wants a family trip to Antarctica, a request that sends Bernadette's anxiety skyrocketing. Meanwhile, their catty neighbor Audrey is declaring war on Bernadette and her blackberry bushes. Picture the biggest busybody from a Desperate Housewives-style show, the kind of woman who erroneously believes that her obnoxious behavior is beneficial to and appreciated by everyone else. She wants to host a bruncheon [I don't know if that's a word, but I'm coining it now] to woo legitimately upper-crust parents to the charter school and Bernadette's blackberry bushes are interfering. To say that Audrey has it out for Bernadette is an understatement, but when the bruncheon ends in catastrophe, it's the proverbial straw that breaks Bernadette. Elgie, concerned that his wife's anxiety and paranoia have become larger than life, attempts to stage an intervention for Bernadette. Unfortunately, he instead discovers that Bernadette has disappeared and it's up to Bee to find her.
This book gently pokes fun at tech culture and at people who desperately want to be in the next highest social strata, but where Semple really excels is in her unfolding of Bernadette. There are certainly aspects of the plot that require some suspension of disbelief, but Bernadette is such a great character. She tried keeping it together but at some point, she snapped and completely folded into herself in anxiety and desperation. She hates Seattle, the parents at Bee's school, her husband's company, everything around her...except her daughter. She loves Bee desperately and wants to do anything she can for her daughter. At the same time, she's an artist whose stunted mental health has fried her ability and opportunity to create, which has only made her more anxious and more depressed.
What else can I say? This book isn't high-minded literature, but it's not really trying to be. It's a send-up of a wacky, soapish storyline that manages to stay completely engrossing—I couldn't put it down.
And it's touching! It's ultimately about self-acceptance—finding what makes you happy and learning how to balance that with the expectations of others that you can't shake off. And there's this quote, which I loved: "This is why you must love life: one day you're offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you're using the word calve as a verb."
I dare say that if you can't appreciate it, then maybe you just don't get satire (I kid, I kid.)
For the first time ever, I'm going with the Goodreads-appointed rating system. This book was simply "OK", therefore I am giving it 2 stars. I didn't hate it or anything, but it really didn't do anything for me.
I didn't find it funny (or all that quirky to be quite honest), and the characters were all a bit bland. I was also disappointed that what I had originally thought was the whole point of the book (Bernadette disappearing right before a trip to Antarctica) didn't even happen until way later in the story. I found the lead-up to Bernadette's disappearance to be quite dull, and I only became vaguely interested when it finally happened.
I don't have very strong emotions towards this book, which leads me to believe it just wasn't for me.