Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple. Little, Brown, 326 pp. $25.99
Meet Bernadette Fox.
She used to be a world-renown “green” architect. She used to be considered on the forefront of her field. She even won a MacArthur Grant.
Now, Bernadette is as much of a hermit as a 21st-Century housewife can be. She leaves her house only to pickup her daughter from school, run the errands that are absolutely necessary and hole away in Petit Trianon, the airstream trailer she has parked in her backyard.
The other tasks, the ones that require Bernadette to interact with other members of the human race, she has hired Manjula, a virtual assistant from India, to handle.
And, for the most part, she’s been content with her life. That is, until her daughter, Balakrishna, or “Bee”, comes home from her ambitious private school with another perfect report card. Bee was told upon entering Seattle’s Galer Street School that she could have whatever she wanted if she got straight A’s throughout middle school.
Bee has held up her end of the bargain, and now she wants to go to Antarctica.
The only way to get to Antarctica is by cruise ship. Even the smallest one has 150 passengers, which translates into me being trapped with 149 other people who will uniquely annoy the hell out of me with their rudeness, waste, idiotic questions, incessant yammering, creepy food requests, boring small talk, etc. Or worse, they might turn their curiosity toward me, and expect pleasantry in return. I’m getting a panic attack just thinking about it.
If the social anxiety of the South Pole isn’t enough for Bernadette, her neighbor, Audrey Griffin, is hosting a party to attract wealthy, important parents, dubbed “Mercedes Parents,” into attending Galer, in order to approve the school’s image.
This party will only go on if Bernadette can eradicate the blackberry bushes that scale down the hill and into Audrey’s backyard.
And just when the circumstances pile too high for Bernadette to control, she disappears, leaving her husband, daughter and the entire city of Seattle wondering what happened.
This book is quirky, charming, and hilarious. Any book praised by Jonathan Franzen can be nothing less. And yet, behind the fierce wit, the snarky emails between Audrey and her friend, Soo-Lin and the over-the-top character that encompasses Bernadette Fox, there’s heart.