The basics: Bernadette Fox is a legend, in good ways and bad, depending on the group. She's an enigmatic world-renowned architect who hasn't worked in years. She's a object or ire and ridicule to her fellow private school mothers in Seattle. She's something of a curiosity to her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee, and her husband, who works at Microsoft. Bernadette has become agoraphobic and employs a virtual personal assistant from India rather than perform simple tasks herself. When Bee achieves a perfect report card, she asks for her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. When Bernadette disappears, Bee tries to solve the mystery by putting together emails, letters, and other pieces of evidence.
My thoughts: Y'all, Maria Semple has arrived. This novel is a treasure of brilliance, humor, and curiosity. In theory, I'm a huge fan of epistolary novels, but in practice, I'm often disappointed. Semple modernizes and transforms this storytelling method brilliantly. She combines emails with secret messages, invoices, and other odds and ends to create a seamless narrative.
This novel defies conventions in so many ways. At different points in this novel, it can be described as satirical, mysterious, delightfully preposterous, emotionally compelling, and a haunting contemporary family drama. Throughout this novel, however, it is always engaging, enjoyable and thought-provoking. It's a novel I read in less than twenty-four hours. I couldn't wait to finish this journey with (and without) Bernadette, but I also didn't want it to end because it's impossible to know when the next novel this creative, inventive, smart and enjoyable will come along.
The verdict: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? isn't a perfect novel, but it is a perfectly enjoyable one. Semple takes risks big and small, and while almost all of them pay off, a few nagging details kept this novel from being a 5-star read, but it's one I wholeheartedly recommend to just about everyone. Once again, I can't wait to read what Maria Semple writes next.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: August 12, 2012
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