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Overview Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattleâ€”and people in generalâ€”has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondenceâ€”creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.
Reviews 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, "Suck on it, asshat."
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 fifteenyear-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. It's when a project particularly near-and-dear to her heart is destroyed that Bernadette's psyche begins to fray. She and her husband, Elgie, move to Seattle when he takes a job at Microsoft. They live in an abandoned home for girls and their daughter overcomes a congenital heart condition to succeed brilliantly at a charter school, whose wannabe-upper-crust parental committee resents 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 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. Her request is for a family trip to Antarctica, a request that sends Bernadette's anxiety skyrocketing. Meanwhile, Bernadette's catty neighbor Audrey is declaring war on Bernadette and her blackberry bushes. Picture the biggest busybody from Desperate
Housewives, if you can. I don't know specific characters, but that's what Audrey is. She's a busybody 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 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 things begin to spiral out of control for Bernadette. Elgie, concerned that his wife's anxiety and paranoia have become larger than life, attempts to stage an intervention for Bernadette. Unfortunately, Bernadette disappears instead and it's up to Bee to find her.
This book pokes fun at the culture of Microsoft and at people who desperately want to be in the next highest social strata without becoming too mean, 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 has 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 Bee. 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.
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 ;) 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! This is my favorite book that I have read in a long while. Is five stars sort of ambitious? IT WOULD BE EXCEPT THIS IS MY FAVORITE BOOK I HAVE READ IN A LONG LONG WHILE. So five stars, I don't care, five stars. Oh my gosh I don't even know where to start you guys. It's funny, but that's not just it. It's incredibly well-written, but that's not just it. It's got a really fun structure that is executed really well, but that's not just it, either!
It's just, I feel like this might be one of the best books I've ever read about art and women and motherhood and technology and life and Seattle.
I mean, Bernadette is infuriating. Reading her sections of this book, you want to slap her just as much as you want her to like you (!). She says terrifically horrible things but also these deeply-felt things, she is complex and brilliant and depressed and hopeful all at once. And Elgie, for a while I was worried about him ever being a character for real, but then he just -- he just EXPLODES at the end of the book, just, perfectly sketched in. And the gnats, who, I mean, the gnats, and their evolution. And Ice Cream. And Abbey Road. And that completely amazing Artforum article. And.
And Bee, gosh. Bee. Bee who, since she is a fictional character, I would like to take her hand and introduce her to another young fictional lady from Seattle, Ruby Oliver. The two have a lot to say to each other, I think. Bee is the rare teenage protagonist who shows up in an adult novel acting like an actual teenager. No extra swearing or slang to prove something, no wacked-out diction. Just, a teenager, who is smart, and young, and trying.
I will admit--I felt things slow a little when Bernadette disappeared. I missed her right away, I wanted more of her correspondence and I worried that the ending would disappoint me. But! I worried for nothing. I cried twice. I laughed forever. So good. The reader's point of view is from Bernadette Fox's daughter Bee who is a genius child and wants nothing more than to go to Antarctica with her parents. Following a string of letters, emails, notes, and even conversations between all the characters is a story about how Bernadette Fox goes missing. Her quirky actions ultimately lead to one of her biggest secrets, resulting in her only daughter to search for her.
Where'd You Go Bernadette is a wonderfully humourous read. I loved the different writing style where the story plops a letter or an email from one of the characters to another character. It shows a different dimension to the character and a rather funny one at best. Can I just say how much I love Bernadette and her crazy ways? She even reminds me of Becky Bloomwood from Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. Both beautiful, loveable, and has everyone's best interests at heart.
I wasn't surprised to hear that this was written by one of the writers from one of my favourite TV shows Arrested Development. It pokes fun at Seattle, at
Microsoft, at snobby rich kids, and even Canada! I couldn't help but chuckle at Bernadette's reason WHY she hates Canadians..I was literally laughing into the book.
Where'd You Go Bernadette is a fun and fresh read, perfect for a sunny afternoon at the beach. Good natured and antisocial Bernadette Fox has notoriously become one of my favourite adult characters to date, next to Becky Bloomwood of course. GIve it a try, I highly recommend it. Where'd You Go, Bernadette was wickedly funny. Who is Bernadette? Well, I think this part of the book's synopsis/blurb sums her up perfectly:
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Bernadette is, quite simply, just Bernadette. She's a fantastically funny character. The book is the story of what happens when Bernadette disappears, and her daughter Bee sets out to find her. It involves a virtual assistant in India, a mudslide, a cruise to Antarctica, and some agoraphobia. The book itself is a sort of compilation of emails, official documents, letters, etc., as Bee searches through them to uncover where her mother may have disappeared to, as well as additional narration from Bee herself. The result is a hilarious and charming story, full of characters that you'll want to laugh with, love, and shake some sense into. I absolutely adored this book. (Also, the cover is one of my absolute favorites of this year!
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