Google+ Bookslingers Blog: Where'd You Go Bernadette?

Where'd You Go Bernadette?

So, in short, Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple was not the book for me.

It was the cover for me.

Looks at those giant black sunglasses! The weird fringe! Not wild about the blow up doll mouth though.

This is the story of Bee, her Microsoft-drone father, their aspirational neighbor with a topiary fascination Audrey, and her mother, Bernadette Fox.

In the form of letters, emails, transcripts and newsletters, Bee tries to unravel the mystery of her mother and where she may have disappeared. This will not be easy.

Bernadette is a bundle of hates. She hates the gnat-like parents at the progressive Galer Street School with their classes on Expressive Movement. She hates the fact that Washington State is adjacent to Idaho. She loathes Seattle with its mountains and rain and clouds and pitching-in and yuppies and Microsoft and people. Bernadette has outsourced her entire life to Manjula in India.

To the earth-friendly hybird driving parents, she is a aberration with no sense of community. To her husband, she is not the woman he married. For Audrey, she is the owner of the blackberry bushes that are threatening her perfect Prospective Parent Lunch to attract Mercedes parents to the school.

For Bee, Bernadette is someone who always has her back. She sings to Beatles songs and is calm in a crisis and chaos in regular life. So when Bernadette disappears without saying a word to her, Bee knows that she has to track her down and bring her back home.

Like I said, this is not the book for me. The story of a girl tracking down her mother and a woman struggling against the expectations of a ridiculous, accessory-based society? Awesome.

However, that's only half the book.

The other half is a biting satire of Microsoft and the Subaru-parents of Seattle. Which pretty much sailed over my head. As someone who is at best indifferent and at worst, will walk away from any conversation that surrounds Seattle and Microsoft, this didn't connect. Satire depends on recognition - a common base upon which to launch your barbs. I didn't feel like Semple brought us into the world enough for us to laugh along with her at the ridiculousness of the Galer Street School parents and their marimba demonstrations.

Maybe because of this, the whimsy in the book felt a little forced. All the slavish TED Talk admiration and Victims Against Victimization groups and Antarctica cruises just didn't connect.

But what did connect was Bernadette. She is a tough character. Fueled by petty spite and smug superiority, she navigates her world with a mix of dismissive selfishness and all-consuming rage at small Seattle things (like her day-long rants about five-way stops). But as you read further, you beginning to understand the root of her unbalance, of her frustration about everything around her.

You might not like Bernadette but you do care where she is going.