Where'd You Go, Bernadetteby Published 14 Aug 2012
|Where'd You Go, Bernadette.pdf|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
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
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.
1.5 "whatever~~" stars !!
.Maria Semple is a very clever, clear and concise writer which are all really good attributes....however this book was beyond disappointing.....it was at the upper end of "crap".....two dimensional caricatures behaving so horribly and uncomprehendingly towards each other....each character was more unlikeable than the last not in some interesting and insightful way (the Casual Vacancy comes to mind in its psychological empathic brilliance) but in a way that makes you fear for American culture and the selfishness and narcissism that may be inherent in our upper middle classes.
I want to end by saying "I don't care where the f###ck you went Bernadette and I wished you had stayed there".
Ugh, this book. You see that one star rating? It earned the single star by being mildly engrossing. I know I usually use the word "engrossing" in a positive way, to convey that a book was compelling and interesting, fascinating and exciting. Here I mean that it was just, somehow, able to hold my attention. Not even interest, really, just attention. Somehow. I don't know how. Well I guess this is how: it was entertaining in a way, and it definitely had a certain readability about it. I'm kind of drawn to reading about other people's drama, and that's basically what this whole thing was--catty people and personal family problems and drama.
I didn't like any of the characters. I liked the IDEA of Bernadette, but not really her when she was interacting with anyone or writing things herself--just the idea of her, when other people were talking about her. Bee was supposed to be this awesome girl, like the one exception to every other female in the book, who are without exception "snobbish," "smell weird," manipulative and "crazy" and back-bitey and unhinged. But apparently the author didn't notice(?) that Bee is way judgmental too.
But that's really only part of the misogyny/sexism written into this book (and written into our culture). Then there's the way this book treats relationships between men & women, the gender essentializing, etc. Also the ableism, the white privilege it's dripping with. It's just a whole mess of yuck.
It gets one star for the readability & the drama. It lost all the other stars because I kind of hated its tone (every person in it uses the same voice, by the way), its content, its underlying assumptions, its message, I could go on...but I've wated enough time on it already. It's too bad that this brain candy/beach trash novel turned so icky for me.
I figure my best hope of getting more readers than the Cubs have victories is to mention straight away Maria Semple’s bona fides as a satirist. So here it is: she wrote for Arrested Development. Her talent for skewering plays out well in book form, too, as it turns out. Bernadette, the protagonist, is creative, whip-smart, and now that her daughter, Bee, is past some pretty serious childhood health issues, able to devote herself almost entirely to snarky send-ups. The targets are primarily from Seattle where they live. Beyond the standard subjects of grunge, rain, coffee and Microsoft (where husband, Elgie, is an engineering superstar), there are also the cliquish and bothersome moms from Bee’s school. Complications arise, though, wouldn’t you know.
Much of the book is back-story told in epistolary form. There are email exchanges between Bernadette and an online personal assistant, notes from Bee’s school, several catty moms opining about Bee’s parents, and various other documents of a plot-spoiling nature. From these we learn that Bee is the most outstanding student in her 8th grade class, Bernadette was an award-winning architect in earlier days, Elgie gave the 4th most popular TED talk ever, they’re planning a family trip to Antarctica to see penguins, and the gnats (as Bernadette refers to the busybody moms from the school) are out of control. The list of problems is a long one, too: Bernadette has lost her professional mojo, Elgie is married to his job, one of the gnats becomes Elgie’s admin, Bernadette has become over-reliant on her personal assistant, and another gnat has brought trumped up charges against Bernadette. Breaking points were reached. Near perfect storm status was achieved.
Bee narrates the story of her mom’s disappearance and the subsequent search. But it’s a disservice to go much deeper into the plot. Instead, I’ll mention the pleasure of the overall tone. For one thing, the social satire was done well. The supporting characters were revealed cleverly, with more than just their stereotypes to define them. It was also nice that we weren’t just told that Bernadette, Elgie and Bee were smart, we got to see the evidence of it as well. Another point in the book’s favor is that it had more than just humor going for it. There were also deeper probes into relationships for us to consider. Special mother-daughter bonds were handled deftly.
I have a friend or two out there (oddly enough, near broad-minded Boston [spoilers removed]) who might be tempted to judge a book by its cover, and in this particular case assume “chick lit.” While it does have a female perspective, I personally wouldn’t defile it with such a label. If it’s smart, funny and uplifting, just enjoy it independent of classification, cover and commercial appeal.
It didn’t change my life (my new criterion for five stars), but it did lighten the load for a while. At the same time, there was more ballast than you’d expect from, say, Lucille Bluth, Lindsay and Maeby.
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.