Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Even though the Yoko Ono comment made by an angry daughter about her hapless father’s extramaritally knocked-up girlfriend gets apologized for some 40 pages later – “‘I called her Yoko Ono that night because she was the one who broke up the Beatles. Not because she’s Asian” – it’s a lingering annoyance in what is an overall hysterical, rollicking tale of miscommunication and privilege. [The fertile girlfriend, by the way, is definitely not Japanese; she’s a native-born American of perhaps Chinese heritage guessing by her name. Unfortunately – surprise! not! – she’s also the wayward hubby’s admin. More damning is that if you start typing “women who broke up …” into Google, as soon as you hit that ‘b,’ ‘bands’ pops up automatically – “Women have been breaking up bands for decades, from the inside and the periphery,” shouts an example article. Clearly Yoko was not the only evil bandbreaker; she’s just the easiest Asian stereotype to grab. I’m just saying …!]
Okay, so grumbling aside, back to laughing. The titular Bernadette is stuck in Seattle – a city she abhors – hiding out in a sprawling, unique hovel she calls ‘home.’ She seems to bear little resemblance to the fearless architect she once was – a legendary MacArthur “Genius” renegade who was building green long before Al Gore was performing his global warnings. But after too many disasters and tragedies, she seems to have turned into someone else. Where’d she go, indeed?
This Bernadette has a virtual assistant in India (at $0.75 an hour!) to keep her life organized enough; the only human beings she sees with any regularity are her husband Elgin, a Microsoft exec with a viral TED talk, and their precocious teenage daughter, Bee, who is absolutely excited about claiming her upcoming middle school graduation present: “‘You told me when I started Galer Street that if I got perfect grades the whole way through, I could have anything I wanted for a graduation present … A family trip to Antarctica!'” As the departure date nears, Bernadette panics and Elgin plots. Then Bernadette disappears … and it’s up to Bee to figure out where’d she go – again.
Filled with wacky supporting characters (overinvested, private school, helicopter mothers are a breed unto their own!) and impossible plot twists (Russian Mafia, anyone?), Where’d You Go is 99% fun. Author Maria Semple – who, like her missing Bernadette, went to Choate, established a highly successful career in LaLaLand, and now lives in Seattle – parlays her extensive TV writing experience in creating a novel perfect for short attention-spans trained on 21.5-minute episodes. Her prose is presented in snippets of emails, faxes, letters, notes, diary-like entries from multiple viewpoints and voices, never lingering too long on any one person’s naval-gazing. If you choose to go audible, narrator Kathleen Wilhoite keeps perfect pace with Semple’s rapid narrative. Once you start, you just might be devising your own vanishing act in order to get to adventure’s end! Where’d YOU go …?