Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Author: Maria Semple
Release date: July 2012
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
TL;DR: A devoted daughter goes to the ends of the earth to find her eccentric mother in this inventive, sidesplittingly funny novel.
Bernadette Fox is many women to many people. She’s a demanding boss to her virtual assistant, a pugnacious neighbor, a mercurial wife, a brilliant architect, but above all, she’s an imaginative and devoted mother to fifteen-year-old Bee.
That’s why, when she goes missing, Bee is determined to track her down. In reams of correspondence, receipts, articles, and legal documents, Bee unravels a story chock-full of high jinks and improbable events that take her to the end of the world and back.
Maria Semple, a writer for one of my favorite TV shows ever—Arrested Development—does not disappoint. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is absolutely hilarious, but it’s also a poignant account of how the connections between people—neighbors, teachers, spouses, children, parents—both frustrate and sustain us.
Bernadette is an incredibly complex and not always likeable character, but I loved her all the more for that. I mean, this passage!
“Well, once, I was thinking about OD’ing, so I dumped the contents of every prescription bottle into my two hands—they didn’t even fit, that’s how many I had—just to eyeball to see if I could swallow them all. But then I cooled off on the whole idea and dumped the pills in a baggie, where they languish to this day. Why did I want to OD? you’re probably wondering. Well, so am I! I don’t even remember.”
She’s aggravatingly flaky, yet she’s also a misunderstood genius. “Now this is a character!” I wrote in the margins of my copy.
The structure of the book was, perhaps, my favorite part. (Okay, the humor was my favorite part, but the structure was a close second.) Told almost entirely through documents, this modular novel plays upon what we don’t know about characters by revealing them only in incremental chunks.
I absolutely adored the story, despite a rather hokey ending. I read this on my honeymoon to Belize, and it’d a testament to how compelling the story was that I could barely tear my eyes from the pages to take in glittering turquoise views.
Yet the book’s tendency toward the absurd, along with characters who are at times unlikeable, make it difficult to recommend to everyone. If the passage above sounds intriguing to you, though, I think you’ll like the book as much as I did!
Quote of Note:
“The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”
Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Where’d You Go, Bernadette? for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.