Friday, August 30, 2013

I've moved to a state the neighbors Idaho. And any life that might still be left in me kind of goes poof

Have you read Where'd You Go, Bernadette? yet? Because please, don't make the same mistake I did and just skip over this book. I don't know why. I mostly remember skimming blog posts when I saw they were talking about this book. Nothing against this book in particular. I skim past a lot of blog posts if the book isn't one I recognize or doesn't include something that catches my eye. I think it was also the Franzen blurb on the cover that made me shy away from it. So not only did I not pick up the book but I didn't really know anything about it. Then Alice mentioned something about it taking place in Seattle and hey, I like Seattle. Plus I realized the whole I-don't-actually-know-anything-about-this-book bit and thought I'd look into it. And did you know the book is amazing? Because it is.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is an epistolary novel for the most part. There are sections of straight narrative but for the most part the story unfolds through a series of emails and letters and magazine articles and invoices for a guy that does blackberry abatement. Sometimes I like this style. Other times I wonder why the person writing the letter would spell out a bunch of stuff that the recipient OBVIOUSLY knows and would never actually put in a letter. This falls into the successful bucket because Maria Semple knows what she's doing. Plus I love that we get to see the story, or at least specific events, unfold from lots of different perspectives. Not just what do different characters see, but also how are they telling their audience? A private email between two people is much different than a blast email going to all of the parents of Galer Street School. And Semple manages to make the characters sound different. I wouldn't mistake an email from Bernadette for a note from Ollie-O or a memo from Soo-Lin.

So, the plot. Bernadette is mother to Bee, wife to Elgie, and that-crazy-lady to most of Seattle. She hates people and spends most of her time in the house, or better yet, in an airstream in the yard. She'd much rather have her virtual assistant*, Manjula located in India, do all of the basic day-to-day stuff. Since Bernadette and Elgie promised Bee she'd get whatever she wanted for her 8th grade graduation if she got straight A's (or straight S's for Surpasses Excellence because Galer St doesn't do traditional grades. I guess it's better than a crocodile for spelling.) she could have whatever she wanted. And she wants a trip to Antarctica. Bernadette may be dreading the trip with every inch of herself but she promised this to Bee, and Bernadette is nothing if not a devoted parent.

But of course we have the title of the book so you probably realized things don't go as they were intended and Bernadette disappears. Again. I don't want to say too much. I don't want to spoil anything. I went into the book pretty much knowing it's told through letters and takes place in Seattle and that's it. I don't know if it would have made a difference to know more but I know I loved every new plot point. I don't think I could have anticipated a single one.**

Did I mention the book is funny? Because it's hilarious. I guess it helps that Semple was a writer for Mad About You and Arrested Development and, OK, the fact that she wrote for AD helped convince me that I should really pick this up. I started the book while I was at a beach house with some friends and I kept making them read a line here or there because Bernadette is the best. Even when she is railing on how much she HATES Seattle and Canadians. Her rambling emails to Manjula were some of my favorites.

I can't say enough good things about this book. As soon as I finished it I wanted to start it again. I may read it again soon. You should read it. Now. Right now. Are you reading it yet?

*These are totally a real thing. I would have laughed at the idea and assumed it was something made up because it's too ridiculous except I read about them in My Life as an Experiment by A. J. Jacobs. So yeah. It's a thing.
**I tend NOT to guess things that are going to happen in a book/movie/tv show so take this with a grain of salt.

Title quote from page 127
I had another quote I wanted to use and I went back and forth about it but it's sooorta maybe spoilery so I left it out. I'm telling you this cos about 60% of my time spent writing this post was figuring out a title quote. I really need to start writing these down as I'm reading

Semple, Maria. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Back Bay Books, 2012