Saturday, May 10, 2014

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Spoiler-free summary:
Bernadette Fox is an ex-award-winning architect. She once astounded the creative world with her ability to make beautiful and sustainable structures out of unexpected supplies. Now, she's just bitter. She lives with her quirky genius daughter, Bee, and her career-minded software developer husband, Elgin, in a decrepit building once used as a school for girls. She stays in, hating people and outsourcing their life to a woman in India, while her husband and Bee rattle around the world, trying to fit in. After Bernadette runs over a lady's foot at her daughter's school, she goes missing and it is up to Bee to piece together her emails and letters to find out what happened and who her mother really is.
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I knew I had to read this book when I learned that the author had worked on Arrested Development. AD is one of my favorite shows -  the writing makes me sick with envy. This book makes me envious, too.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is snarky and hilarious, but it's also touching and thought-provoking. I could see this being adapted into the next Wes Anderson film. It's very Royal Tenenbaums, with the genius child, the eccentric family, the immoral, but deeply feeling characters.

I was so excited when I learned that Bernadette's husband worked at Microsoft. His job is inflated, his "admin" is in love with him, he's a rock star of technology and it's horrible. I, too, work at a software company and welcome any attempt to satirize this crap, because it needs to be satirized. Please.

By the end of this book, I had a huge crush on Bernadette. I identified with her need to create, her inability to create, and the resulting cynicism.

I felt like I should like Bee better by the end of this novel, but I didn't. Even though the book is, when not told by letters and emails, from Bee's point of view, I never really felt like I knew her. I was much more interested in her friend Kennedy, who really, really cracked me up. I thought Bee was at her best when she was thinking of impressing Kennedy, which involved collecting the most horrible and ridiculous things from her travels.

The format of emails and letters make this a quick read. Read it to remind yourself why you hate everyone, and then read it again to remind yourself that there are still nice things (like this book) in the world.

Buy Where'd You Go, Bernadette in hardcover, paperbook, audio, and ebook format from Amazon today.

Photo: Back Bay Books

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