Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (pub date 8/14/12)
“A little social anxiety never hurt anyone, am I right?”
We all know a “Bernadette.” She’s the one who doesn’t join in with the rest of the group, the one who chooses not to adhere to social convention, the one too smart and too interesting for the room. She’s the one you might think is weird, but might surprise you if you got to know her. In this novel, author Maria Semple introduces us to just such a character.
Bernadette Fox is a wealthy wife and mother living in Seattle. Her husband is an executive at Microsoft and their teenage daughter, Bee, is a gifted student about to move across the country to an exclusive boarding school. But just below the surface, Bernadette is a wreck. A once-successful architect and still a legend in the field, she left her profession suddenly and moved from Los Angeles to Seattle. This turn of events led her to become increasingly agoraphobic, anxious, and socially awkward. She would become a nuisance for the other mothers at Bee’s private school, a worry to her husband, and a neighbor from Hell. Then one day, shortly before she was supposed to take a family trip to Antarctica, Bernadette suddenly vanishes.
The story is told largely from Bee’s point of view, as she tries to discover the cause behind her mother’s disappearance. The point of the story is not only finding out where Bernadette went physically, but emotionally as well. What would cause a successful career woman and recipient of a genius grant to suddenly give up her profession? Why would a someone who spent her life creating beautiful buildings choose to live in a dilapidated house and let it fall further into disrepair? Why does everyone judge her so harshly?
Where’d You Go Bernadette is delightful. I absolutely loved this book; I read the first third and the entire second half in one sitting each. It’s an absorbing character study and a wicked satire of wealthy Seattle society and Microsoft corporate culture. Hilarious is some parts and touching in others, it’s a book that can be enjoyed by many different audiences. Until now, I wasn’t aware that Semple wrote for Arrested Development (and other shows), but I can definitely see the resemblance in the dialogue and writing style. I would recommend this book to just about anyone. Bernadette is a character you won’t be able to get out of your head for a long time!