Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette," by Maria Semple

I am not quite sure what to make of the quirky, breezy yet serious, down-to-earth yet unpredictable novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (Little, Brown, 2012) by Maria Semple. The character of Bernadette is fresh and variously funny, sad, annoying, and sympathetic. She is an immigrant from Los Angeles to Seattle, where she has escaped from a complicated, messy past caused by an unfortunate mixture of her genius and her stubborn nonconformity. She is a misfit in Seattle, and through much of the novel, she mocks that city. (And, I have to say, although I love Seattle myself, her portrayal of the city and its residents is very funny.) Because she doesn’t care what others think, she has troubled relationships with those at her daughter’s elite school and with her neighbors, among others. She loves her husband and her daughter, and her daughter in particular is her guiding light. But in a complicated set of events, including misunderstandings, mysteries, and surprises, she disappears for a while (thus the title). Somehow the story finds itself in Antarctica – don’t ask! The fun of the story is the originality of the main character, the poised but worried voice of her daughter, and the random-seeming surprises in the plot. In other words – the old-fashioned virtues of character, plot, and originality. So, although I would not rate this book, or the writing, “great,” it is certainly enjoyable and satisfying.

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