Sunday, September 8, 2013

#53 (2013/CBR5) "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2013) by Maria Semple was a book I first heard of through the many Cannonball reviews posted this year. It didn't strike my interest at first; it sounded too weird. But the reviews kept coming in, and I even saw a Facebook friend gushing about it. I don't like to feel left out, so I got myself on the lengthy wait list at the library. And I was not disappointed. I couldn't put it down, and instead of doing the many productive things that I had planned, I finished this one in one day.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is the story of a family: a couple and their precocious teenage daughter. They live odd but very privileged lives in Seattle. When Bee (the teenage daughter) comes home with a record of perfect scores, she asks to go to Antarctica as her prize. Bee's mother Bernadette would do almost anything for her daughter but the thought of this trip stresses her out--as does dealing with the rest of the world. And so, with a number of funny catastrophes and disastrous misunderstandings, Bernadette disappears.

This book is part mystery, part biting social satire, part comedy, and part family drama. Semple does a fantastic job of mixing everything together and telling a sweet, funny, and above all incredibly original story. I did not know, but was not too surprised, when I learned that Semple was also a writer for "Arrested Development." I also saw someone somewhere compare Semple to Jane Austen, which is just perfect. Austen's insightful glimpse into some of the more annoying characters of her time is very similar to Semple's portrayal of the more modern but just as annoying characters of today's Seattle. The stubborn and obtuse Audrey Griffin is an unforgettable character--nosy and willfully ignorant and could be compared to a number of Austen characters.

The main characters were original quirky and believable. The parents, especially, were very multidimensional. I went through phases of hating their actions to fully understanding them. I would recommend this one to pretty much anyone. I'm very glad I got around to reading it.

However, I did have a couple of problems/questions about parts of the book--mostly in the end.

First, I thought Audrey Griffin's 180 degree turn in her attitude and actions was a little far-fetched and unbelievable. Like I said before, Griffin was incredibly entertaining in the beginning of the book. And even though it was nice that Audrey became a better person, I didn't buy it. Perhaps some of this has to do with the fact that most of her changes happen "off screen" and are largely unexplained, but it was a little too much for me.

Second, what was going on with the assistant from "India"? The person had access to what could only be a pretty sizable fortune with bank numbers, social security numbers and more. Yet, week after week, they fulfill all of Bernadette's crazy (and probably annoying) requests. When they finally act, they use frequent flyer miles? So, someone was flying to America? To do what, exactly? Rob them at gun point? Isn't it a lot easier (and less risky) to steal money using the tons of personal and financial information they'd already gathered? And if you're conning someone, once you get what you need, why would you stick around? Doesn't that just make it easier for you to get caught? Also, usually those foreign scams are easy to pick out because their English is not all that impressive. I am genuinely confused and curious as to what was going on with this "assistant."

And finally, Bee and her father find a clue--a pad of paper off of Bernadette's ship, from which a couple of phrases can be deciphered from the indentations on the blank pad. The specialist seems to think it is a letter from Bernadette to Bee. Yet when the reader finally gets to read this letter, it goes into detail on what happened to Bernadette after she jumps ship and lives at a remote station in Antarctica. How is this possible when Bernadette never goes back to the ship once she leaves it for the station. The only possibility (and it's rather far-fetched) would be that Bernadette started the letter, ripped the first three pages off the notepad and just happened to have them in her pocket when she unexpectedly found herself on a raft to the station in Antarctica. Once there, she finished her letter on different paper and sent it all off to Bree.


The questions and issues I have above mostly occur in the latter parts of the book and did not diminish my keen interest in reading this novel, although I am curious what the author was thinking on these points

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just read this for my book club, and I had the EXACT reservations you did about Audrey's 180. I loved Audrey and that failed marketing dude who wrote the newsletters with random words bolded and was sad that Audrey had to reform for the book to end.

AND I thought Bernadette got much too functional all of a sudden. I get that she's a mad genius, but it came across as though she was mad for the first half and genius for the second.

Anyway nitpicks. I flew through it and got a lot of enjoyment from reading it.