Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

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This book is already one of my favorite reads of the year. Much like Jonathan Franzen’s review, and the dozens of others listed on the first few pages, I tore through it loving every single page. Where’d You Go Bernadette is about a woman who goes missing two days before her family is scheduled to take a long-planned, long-awaited trip to Antartica right before Christmas. Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, and her husband, Elgin, are trying to figure out how Bernadette disappeared, and why. The bulk of the story is told through the emails and letters Bee sorts through after her mother’s disappearance.

This book is not so much a mystery as it is a satire of life in Seattle, of helicopter moms and private schools and of Microsoft which is based in Seattle. Bernadette has a biting humor and quickly became one of my favorite fictional characters ever. Below is one of her quotes which I couldn’t stop laughing at:

“But the problem with the Xanax and the hundreds of other pills I had squirreled away was this: they were currently jumbled together in a Ziploc bag. Why? 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 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!”

Bernadette’s offbeat and quirky personality actually hides something much darker. Twenty years ago she was an acclaimed architect who won a MacArthur grant and was a rising star in the field of architecture, a huge feat, and in a male dominated-field no less. It all came crashing down, literally, when a feud with a neighbor ended up destroying her life’s work. Humiliated, she urged her husband Elgin to take the job with Microsoft because it meant moving to Seattle; a place she could slip away to and never be heard from again.

There are a lot of events leading up to her disappearance that the reader can point to and say that was what caused it, but it truly remains a mystery until the very end. I didn’t quite care for Elgin and the way he went about getting Bernadette “help” without even trying to talk to her first. My heart went out to Bee who struggled to adjust to life in limbo after Bernadette’s disappearance; Elgin acting the way that he did was clearly not helping her. Still, the ending was satisfying, which I was relieved by because for a while there it was looking like the chances for a happy ending were getting more and more slim. This book was incredibly well-written, riveting and funny as much as it was heart-breaking and somber. I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone looking for something engrossing to get lost in.

Have you read Where’d You Go Bernadette yet? I still can’t believe it hasn’t been made into a movie yet!

3 thoughts on “Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

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