Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple

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 Seattle—and people in general—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 correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

Carol Sherman (11/25/16): This is a very funny and somewhat bizarre story. It took me a while to get used to the style – receipts, emails, conversations as well as narrative from Bernadette’s daughter Bee. We find out toward the end that we are reading Bee’s book about her mother which she wrote when Bernadette was missing.

Throughout the book we hear of a trip to Antarctica which is on and off again and again. We finally get there late into the book, looking for Bernadette with Bee and her Dad. Having been to Antarctica and enjoyed landing with the penguins and on the Antarctic Peninsula with some scientists, I enjoyed the memories.

Years ago I visited Seattle for a day. This book lets you learn about today's Seattle culture through the eyes of rich parents of middle school children, Microsoft employees and other snippets of information, and through Bee's eyes. She loves both her bizarre parents very much.

I really enjoyed this funny read. I give it 4 +
Rating: ****+

Gail Reid (06/29/13): Bernadette Fox was once a well-known rising star architect and recipient of a MacArthur genius award. All of that was a long time ago and for the past twenty years, Bernadette has been a recluse in Seattle, living with her Microsoft guru husband Elgie and her middle-schooler Bee. What happened?

Bernadette didn't find her niche after a horrendous experience with her prize house in L.A. and then several miscarriages occured before Bee was born with a heart condition. Lest you think all of this leads to a gloom and doom story, it does not! Bernadette is hysterically funny. She secretly hires a virtual personal assistant in India to handle the details of living, so that she can avoid interaction with all the people who rub her the wrong way. She has constant conflict with the other mothers in the PTA and one ridiculous encounter after another transpires.

The delightfully intelligent Bee has been promised anything she wants in return for a perfect report card, which she delivers. Bee proposes a trip to Antarctica which causes panic in the agoraphobic Bernadette. The FBI gets involved when some of Bernadette's actions backfire; and her husband Elgie is more and more convinced that a mental health intervention is needed. Bernadette escapes the intervention; and right before the planned trip to Antarctica, she disappears. "Where'd you go Bernadette" is the mantra as the clever Bee and her father hatch a plan to find her.

This book is truly a comic romp. Much of the story is written in e-mails between Bernadette and her virtual assistant in India and almost everyone else. Bernadette dislikes most everyone in her Seattle circle and she's stuck in a rut she does not see. While it was sad to me that she wasted her talent for many years, her situation translates to a wicked sense of humor and an unusual perception of people and events. I think there is a shortage of funny novels, but this one delivers. 4+
Rating: ****+

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