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Sam Dobson Writes: Book Review { Where'd You Go, Bernadette? }

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review { Where'd You Go, Bernadette? }

My latest read was one that kept me up at night, anxiously turning the pages while the clock ticked on and my husband slept soundly. If you love quirky female leads, then you'll love this book. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is somewhat of a mystery with an intelligent 15 year old on the case. Bee's mom has gone missing after a number of confrontations with bitchy PTA moms and her husband's attempt at having her committed. Bee ignores the grim opinions of law enforcement and decides to take on the investigation herself. Bee leads the reader on a wild journey to Antarctica to bring her mother home.

My favorite part about this book is how the first half or so of the story is told through pieces of evidence that Bee has strung together, email correspondences, medical bills, magazine articles, etc. Through this evidence, the picture of Bernadette is painted as a brilliant yet nutty architect whose young and promising career met an untimely, confrontational end. After getting her professional heart broken in Los Angeles, Bernadette and her family relocated to Seattle where her husband took a time consuming job.

Being a stay at home mom doesn't bode well for Bernadette's misplaced genius. Bernadette is what makes this book so addicting, she is a fascinating character. She is incredibly intelligent and driven, but for what? With no intellectual outlet, Bernadette's quirkiness grows and so does the tension between her and those around her. Bernadette develops agoraphobia, because of which she prefers to stay inside her dilapidated house, she even opts for hiring a virtual assistant in an effort to limit her contact with the rest of the world.

I found Bernadette and all her craziness charming. She did have a lot of issues, but she dealt with a lot of bullshit too, like the "gnats" (you'll have to read the book if you want to know). Granted, she did not handle her first (and only) professional disappointment well, but you have to feel sympathetic for all she went through to have Bee. Bernadette birthed a child just as wild. In the beginning of the book, intelligent and rather mature for her age, Bee appears to be well grounded and very rational. That all changes once her mother has gone missing and Bernadette begins to shine through her daughter. The most addicting part of the book was of course the Antarctica trip where Bee was the only one still holding out hope.

My qualms lie with Elgie, Bernadette's Microsoft slave of a husband, and Audrey, Bernadette's school mom nemesis. At first, I loved Elgie because he loved such an eccentric woman (gives hope to all of us crazy ladies). Once Bernadette started to really unravel, so did my adoration for Elgie. Instead of just flat out asking his wife what was up or simply paying more attention when at home, the frequently absent father and husband secretly arranged to give Bernadette and intervention in hopes she would commit herself. The part that pissed me off the most was, of course, Elgie's inappropriate relationship with Soo-Lin during his wife's "mental breakdown".

Audrey was just your typical protagonist in the first half of the novel. I loved to hate her and think to myself what Bernadette should have done or said. That all got complicated when Audrey has a sudden change of heart and decides to warn Bernadette of her husband's planned intervention and probable committal. This muddles up my feelings about Audrey. I still can't stand how pretentious and bitchy she is or was, but she has slightly redeemed herself. It seemed too good of an epiphany to be true, an unlikely turnaround.

Nevertheless, I loved this book. I loved Bernadette for the crazy genius that she is and I loved Bee for the fierce hopeful that she is. Bee is incredibly clever for stringing together "evidence" of her mother's breakdown and disappearance but she is also unwavering in her search. The whole story is wildly clever and witty and I wasn't disappointed in the outcome. I was left to wonder what would happen between Bernadette, her unfaithful husband, and his pregnant one-night stand.



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