Monday, February 11, 2013

Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple


In a tiny upper-crust community in Seattle known as Galer Street, the Fox/Branch family resides in a not-so-renovated old school on a blackberry-covered hill. Bernadette Fox, (wife, mother, genius architect), spends her days being ever-so-eccentric, rearranging her pots and pans to catch all the leaks dripping from her ceilings. At Galer Street School, she’s the one and only non-volunteering Mommy, and the other Galer Street Moms adore gossiping about her peculiar reclusive ways. Elgin Branch, (father, husband, creator of the fourth most popular TEDtalk of all time), loves his work so much he might as well live at Microsoft rather than simply running one of its most promising divisions. And then there’s Bee, little Bee, their extraordinary fourteen year old girl, who has been promised a trip to Antarctica in return for perfect grades throughout middle school.

Laugh-out-loud funny in a witty and satirical way, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is the story of how this family crumbles under attacks from within and without: and perhaps how it puts itself back together. Documented with emails, letters, and FBI files, it is daughter Bee’s attempt to show the truth of what happened and who is in the wrong, and also her attempt to get extra credit to make up for all that time missed from school while in Antarctica. (The format and tone remind me of the best of the Spellman Files books, by Lisa Lutz—if you like those, definitely check out Bernadette.)

I found the first third of the book a bit dull, but judging by the number of raving reviews out there, I may just be too critical. Bernadette’s character eventually gets fleshed out, but for a while at the beginning she seems “eccentric” only in that she can afford to act on her slightest whim. Her arch-enemy, the uberMom of Galer Street, is the mean popular girl from everyone’s high school, all grown up. Backstabbing clique novels aren’t my thing—I didn’t get drawn in until the series of circumstances snowballed into something a little more interesting.

Semple has been a screenwriter as well as an author, and her credits include writing for such TV shows as Arrested Development, Mad about You, and Ellen.

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