Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

If this book were a movie, it would be a mad-cap, slightly screwball comedy with a large cast of well-known actors circulating around one main woman: Bernadette.  Maria Semple's novel is told through a series of notes, e-mails, fictitious news articles, and journal entries, making it feel incredibly personal and as though the reader is privy to everyone's dirty secrets and thoughts. 
As the story opens, Bernadette's daughter, Bee, is telling her family that she has received straight As on her report card and would like to be rewarded with a trip to Antarctica.  Bernadette and her husband, Elgin, completely agree that they should take a family trip, and plan the vacation.  Things go downhill from there; Bernadette's allergy to Seattle (where they live) and her neighbors (she calls them 'the gnats') intensifies to a point where she cannot be bothered to leave the house to buy groceries or even call restaurants to make Thanksgiving reservations.  She leaves everything up to an online assistant, who does everything from call in prescriptions for anti-psychotic medications to taking care of passport issues (from 'India').  Bernadette's issues with her neighbors, husband, and even Bee become more and more problematic until one day when she just disappears. 
Where did she go?  And more importantly, who is she really?  Bernadette is a mother and best friend to Bee, an opinionated and slightly damaged partner to her husband, an anxiety-ridden mess to her neighbors, and a design genius to architecture nerds.  Each chapter reveals secrets and clues to the real Bernadette, and the relaxed tone and flexible structure of the book makes the pages fly by. 
I can't recommend thi book enough for a dead-of-winter escape.  I tore through the novel with reckless abandon.

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