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June 10, 2013

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

bernadetteApparently Maria Semple’s novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was one of the biggest books of last year, but perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. Someone who was paying attention, however, was Stuart, who took note when I picked this book up in the store and casually remarked, “I’m kind of interested in this one,” and proceeded to buy me the book for Mother’s Day. I saved it for postpartum, because I had a feeling, and oh, what a good feeling it was. Two nights ago, Iris’s all night eating/fussy fits began, and I was so glad to have this book on hand. My mind is fuzzy and there is no way I could write a coherent review, but it’s an endorsement, I think, that on Saturday night when I was up from 12am until 5am feeding the baby, all I could really think of was, “Yes! I get to read more Bernadette!”.

The book comprises a mishmash of forms–letters, emails, newspaper articles, memos and more. It reminded me a bit of A Visit from the Goon Squad combined with a bit of Special Topics in Calamity Physics. It’s heart-felt, satirical, rich with the stuff of the world. Lines in parentheses, like, “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.” Told from the vantage point of Bee Branch, a wise-beyond-her-years Seattle teen who lives in a decrepit former home for wayward girls atop a hill of blackberries with her father, a Microsoft developer, and her eccentric mother, Bernadette. We learn about Bernadette mainly from the point of view of other parents at Bee’s elite private school, other women bothered by Bernadette’s refusal to conform to their expectations of her. Bernadette is brilliant, agoraphobic, and her daughter adores her. We learn that in a past life, she found fame as an architect of buildings constructed from found-objects, but she stopped creating after a series of tragedies. And now suddenly, on the cusp of a family trip to Antarctica, Bernadette has disappeared. It’s up to Bee to put the pieces of the puzzle together, and find out where her mother has gone.

The perfect book to read in the middle of the night a few days post-partum is not to say the book isn’t really smart and satisfying. How wonderful to get the best of everything.

2 thoughts on “Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple”

  1. You write so eloquently. I always enjoy reading your posts. “Iris and Harriet” such wonderful names!

  2. Melwyk says:

    I’m amazed at your literary wherewithal. This review captures the spirit of the book and compares it to two others that made me say, oh, of COURSE! This was an amusing read, and I always love anything with Antarctica in it 🙂

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