Sunday, February 9, 2014

where'd you go bernadette

where'd you go bernadette
maria semple
little brown & co.
published 2012

Bernadette Fox is notorious.  To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears.  It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica.  But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle - and people in general - has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands.  A trip to the end of the earth is problematic. 

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence - creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

Now, I can see how a lot of readers could find this novel inconceivable.  All of these things that happen seem to be out of the realm of normal possibility.  For starters, what 7th grader wants to go to Antarctica?  But really, if you wade through the craziness there are shining nuggets of truth, of real life.

Bernadette is truly suffering.  Reading the emails from Ollie-O (which is a ridiculous name) and the back and forths about what kinds of parents they want at the school it's no wonder Bernadette wants nothing to do with them.  And she tells her husband this, but he seems to just brush it off.  Mostly, I think, because it has nothing to do with his work.  She has this horrific neighbor who hates her because she doesn't know her.  The catty emails are enough to drive me insane.

The character that I just couldn't like was Elgin.  He spent their entire marriage ignoring Bernadette.  He worked ridiculous hours and immersed himself in his own genius.  When he finally begins to pay a bit of attention it's the end of the world.  At a time when he is supposed to be helping Bernadette he can talk of nothing more than how she is ruining his life.  How crazy she is.  He never once gives her a chance to speak or explain.  The only person who stood up for her was Bee.

I think that what this book really tried to say was how people have the ability to greatly harm or greatly help another person.  That sometimes we just have to stop being assholes and try to be human beings.

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