Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple
Publisher: Little, Brown, & Co.
Publication Date: August 14, 2012

Aloof and disinterested in socializing, Bernadette Fox is the object of morbid curiosity from her neighbors and the parents at her daughter's school.  Everything gives her a tizzy fit (cold Seattle people, weird design of intersections in Seattle, Idaho drivers, Canadians, etc.) causing trips outside her house to be major ordeal.  Trying to avoid human interactions and the ensuing anxiety leads Bernadette to basically hand over her life to her secret virtual assistant Manjula in India.

Bernadette's husband Elgin Branch works at Microsoft and is the lead on a major project. He is totally absorbed in the Microsoft culture to the detriment of his relationships with his wife and daughter. Her daughter Bee (short for Balakrishna) is 14 years old and small for her age.  They represent the bulk of her non-Manjula communications.  Despite her anxiety issues and irritability, she is a great mom to Bee.  When Bee requests a trip to Antarctica as a reward for excellent grades, Bernadette agrees to having a family vacation.

Everything starts to go to pot when a neighbor accuses Bernadette of running over her foot.  Removing her blackberry bushes at the same neighbors request just results in a fundraiser ruining mudslide.  Add in some alleged shadiness on the part of Manjula and Bernadette starts to slip even further.  Being recognized by a passerby is the icing on the cake.  Elgin, unaware of all the troubles Bernadette is dealing with, starts to fear for her metal health after several strange incidents.  When he holds an intervention, Bernadette bolts. 

Using the accumulated documents, Bee discovers Bernadette's whereabouts and we finally get to here from the lady herself. Bernadette Fox was a innovative designer; she was incorporating environmentally friendly building techniques before they were a thing.  She is a legend in architectural circles for building The Twenty Mile House plan free and entirely from materials sourced from both the sites and locally.  After the incident, Bernadette runs to Seattle and avoids any mention of the Twenty Mile House.  Elgin thinks once Bee is born that all is past but once he starts paying attention he sees her massive issues for the first time.  Despite Bernadette's issues, her help and support allowed him to be the Microsoft absorbed man he was.

Where'd You Go Bernadette is a great novel.  I totally like this book almost 100%.  The characters were well written and crafted with care- even some of the side plots that seemed superfluous were integrated with the rest of the plot. I was so engrossed: it was totally annoying to have to take breaks for work, dinner, socializing, etc. Maria Semple wrote for one of my favorite shows Arrested Development and now one of my favorite books this year. 

**This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.**

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