Sep 172013

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a comic novel skewering the modern American version of affluence and, for good measure, the tech industry, self-help culture, and the good people of Seattle. Through a series of e-mails, notes, and letters, we meet Bernadette, her husband Elgin, and their daughter Bee. Elgin is a rock star at Microsoft whose workaholic tendencies keep are slowly estranging him from his family. Bernadette is a brilliant former architect who suddenly abandoned her career and is now struggling with depression and agoraphobia. She hires a personal assistant based in India to handle the most basic household tasks and does her best to avoid interacting with anyone but her family.

Bernadette eventually disappears for reasons that aren’t clear until later in the book. Bee is the narrative voice tying together the disparate elements of the narrative and it’s impossible not to like her. She’s a precocious teen with a biting sense of humor and a generous spirit. The book is her attempt to piece together the circumstances that led to her mother’s disappearance. Author Maria Semple weaves together plot and characterization to create a deeply funny book populated with deeply flawed people. The relationship between Bernadette and Bee is beautifully revealed through the inner voices of the two characters and it elevates the book above satire to something much more nuanced.

This is probably one of the few literary novels that gives the reader with a solid introduction to Antarctica and its flora and fauna.

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