Mom disappears into thin air two days before Christmas without telling me? Of course it’s complicated. Just because it’s complicated, just because you think you can’t ever know everything about another person, it doesn’t mean you can’t try. It doesn’t mean I can’t try. – from Where’d You Go, Bernadette -
Fifteen year old Bee is wise beyond her years and when she scores exceptional grades in school, her parents promise her a trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette, Bee’s mom, is far from your average mother. Once a famous architect in Los Angeles, she now struggles to fit in with the super mothers in the elite Seattle, Washington area. When she disappears only days before Christmas, she leaves behind a guilty husband and a questioning daughter who will go to any extreme to find out what happened to Bernadette. Bee begins to piece together school memos, email messages, newspaper interviews and bits of “evidence” in the days leading up to Bernadette’s disappearance. The result? A wildly entertaining, sometimes poignant, and often hilarious story about parenting in the 21st century, religion, American culture and finding oneself in the process.
Maria Semple is very funny. Her novel is often bitingly sarcastic as she skewers the superficiality of elitism. Semple has written for the television series Mad About You and also Ellen…and her ability to write satire is unparalleled. I found myself literally laughing out loud at the situations in which Semple’s characters find themselves. The book pokes fun at the green movement, private school parents (and the administrators of those schools), and corporate America, while delivering a tale about the relationship between mother and daughter.
One of the themes of the novel is identity – specifically Bernadette’s identity of artist which becomes lost amid her role as wife and mother. One character from Bernadette’s past observes:
If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.
That observation is prophetic and it is this idea of being true to oneself which ultimately drives the narrative in this delightful book.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette delivers on many levels: great characters, an original plot, and a witty format. Short listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, it also demonstrates that smart women’s fiction has found its way into the literary circles.
Readers who are looking for humor, great writing, originality and ultimately characters who touch their hearts, need look no further.