Where'd You Go, Bernadette

12611253Ah Bernadette!  You have got to love her in spite of all of her faults.  She’s witty, intelligent, and an immensely creative architect.  Unfortunately, something has happened to her, making her anti-social and borderline argoraphobic.  This is a novel that explores what can go wrong with someone and how that person is perceived by others.  It also speaks of personal limits.  The reader can’t help but love Bernadette Fox because her rants are sometimes the ones we want to do ourselves, but prefer to do it in our heads.  Not doing her job as an architect for a long while, she tries to cope with being stuck at home because she hates going out, while trying to raise her intelligent precocious daughter Bee.  Meanwhile her husband, Elgin, is a big computer guru working for the omnipresent Microsoft or MS as the people call it in the book. He is the reason they have moved to Seattle.

The book is an amazing introspection on what is wrong in American society.  Maria Semple has found an ingenious way of critiquing that through the usage of the different types of correspondence used to tell the story of what happens to Bernadette.  The most original aspect of this book is that it is told from multiple perspectives, using letters, emails, faxes, doctors reports, and interviews.  Some may argue that it isn’t literary enough because of that but I disagree.  What better way to critique society while using one of its devil evils, emailing, etc.  It’s clear that Semple has taken a lot of care into weaving the story.  There are many issues that are developed such as husband/wife relationships, mother/daughter relationships, being wealthy, creating, socializing, integrating into a community, etc.  What I love the most is that it got me to laugh out loud quite a few times.  It is an entertaining and gratifying read.  It really made me wonder how I would react to some of the things that happened to Bernadette.  At one moment, there is a reference to a novel with a famous architect in it and Bernadette’s creativity rivals his ingenuity.  The only thing is Bernadette is human and that fragility is what makes the reader empathise with her.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is not Maria Semple’s first novel.  It was The One is Mine.  It is the story of a profoundly unhappy woman named Violet Parry, who is living a luxurious life with her husband David and her toddler Dot.  It’s not until she meets Teddy that things seem to be very different for her.  Semple wrote on various popular television series where she’s proved she knows how to tell a story.  She is credited for having worked on shows such as Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan Mad About You, 90210, and Ellen.  Writing might be in her blood as they say since her father Lorenzo Semple, Jr. worked on the television series of Batman.  Maria Semple lives in Seattle with her husband and her daughter Poppy.  Check out the link below where Semple talks about how she went about writing Where’d You Go, Bernadette and mentions a few excellent pointers for debutant writers.

Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Genre:  Adult Fiction/Humor/Contemporary

Published:  August 2012

Edition:  Little, Brown and Company

Pages:  320

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * *

My favorite quote:  ”I was downtown early one morning and I noticed the streets were full of people pulling wheelie suitcases.  And I thought, Wow here’s city full of go-getters.  Then I realized, no, these are all homeless bums who have spent the night in doorways and are packing up before they get kicked out.  Seattle is the only city where you step in shit and you pray, please God, let this be dog shit.” (Where’d You Go, Bernadette, p. 124)

+4,223

28. The Senator's Wife

This is the very first novel that I’ve read by Sue Miller.   I think she’s known for writing about women and relationships.  I was really surprised to say the least.  There was a scene that knocked me off my seat.  I just couldn’t believe it.  I would have never thought of it.  In spite of everything, the first half of the book was a bit of a bore.  There was a lot of character development, which was useful but slowed the story down.  Around the middle of the story I became more interested.  I didn’t like any of the characters because they are all extremely flawed.  Meri is a snoop and very unsure of herself.  Delia is overly confident but naive in love.  Nathan is insensitive and arrogant.  Tom the senator is self-centered, egotistical philanderer.

Meri and Nathan are a young couple house hunting for their new home.  They decide to buy the old house that they are looking at and it happens to be connected to Delia’s house who is the senator’s wife.  From the moment the couple moves in, their lives connect with  Delia’s to transform each other forever.

I’m not sure I understand what Sue Miller is trying to say in this book but it’s not very feminist if she is.  Actually, I suspect she is just trying to give a point of view about relationships.  For one thing, the novel is very well written.  I learned a few new vocabulary words.  I’ll be cautious to choose another Sue Miller book though.  I’ll ask my avid reader friends to steer me to a really good one or just read The Good Mother (the one that’s often mentioned).

Sue Miller published her first novel in 1986, The Good Mother.  Since she was a single mother, she didn’t have much time to devote to writing; although now she’s made up for that after publishing ten books and two of them have been adapted to film – The Good Mother (1988) and Inventing the Abbotts (1997).  She is now a professor teaching creative writing classes at Smith College.