Published by Little Brown on Aug. 2012
Where’d You Go, Bernadette has been a major buzz book since its publication nearly a year ago, and I finally got around to requesting it from the library! I really had no idea what to expect from this book when I got it: something about a missing mother, going to Antarctica, and an epistolary format? What sealed the deal for me to read this book was finding out that Maria Semple used to be a writer for Arrested Development, one of my favorite TV shows. I knew that if this book was even half as funny as the show, I would love it. It was, and I did!
Bernadette Fox is a reclusive former architect who abandoned her promising career when the Huge Hideous Thing happened to her. Now living with her husband and exceptionally bright middle-school-aged daughter, Bee, in Seattle, Bernadette makes an eccentric character, to say the least. She refuses to participate in Bee’s private school programming, hates leaving the house, rants about everything from Canadians to the difficulty of parking in Seattle, and hires a virtual assistant in India to carry out even her most basic tasks.
When Bee asks for a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for earning straight A’s (S’s actually, because she goes to “one of those liberal, grades-erode-self-esteem-type schools”), everything begins to fall apart. Paired with her already strained mental state and a feud with a neighbor over some wild-growing blackberry bushes, the prospect of cruising the Antarctic with her debilitating motion sickness is too much for Bernadette. She vanishes, leaving her husband, an influential Microsoft executive, and Bee to pick up the pieces.
Desperate to find her missing mother, Bee sifts through emails, notes, magazine articles, invoices, letters from the school, and other correspondence for clues. In doing so, she assembles a picture of her mother that she never saw before, including the event that unravelled her career and damaged her psyche.
Where’d You Go Bernadette is written in an epistolary format, and the story is made up of the various communications Bee reads as she tries to make sense of Bernadette’s disappearance and figure out where she is.
I really enjoyed this novel and can see why it’s gotten so much attention! The epistolary format was an interesting approach, as the various correspondences allow us to see Bernadette through many lenses — her daughter, her husband, other moms at Bee’s school, architects she worked with, and her own narration.
This would make a perfect beach read this summer, if you haven’t read it yet. It’s really funny — I may have laughed out loud a few times (okay, many times) — and on the lighter side, but I wouldn’t call it fluffy. It’s quite smart, and although I thought the story got a little bit convoluted toward the middle, it was a lot of fun to read!