Friday, November 30, 2012

Bernadette Fox Grows Up....

...and readers will root for her all the way! You can just tell that author Maria Semple would be a fun gal to hang out with. And, she gives new meaning to the old fashioned term "epistolary novel." Through a series of e-mails, faxes, bills, and letters, Ms. Semple introduces us to the quirky Elgin Branch family along with some one-of-a-kind denizens of Seattle during the hey day of the dot com boom. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a sarcastic, laugh-out-loud, yet poignant, introduction to a woman who just doesn't fit and the family that loves her.

Once a wunderkind architect designing and building ecologically sound homes in L.A.,  Bernadette Fox, through a series of tricks and a wicked act of vengeance that we learn about halfway through her story, has a bit of what might be called a nervous breakdown. Eschewing her career in favor of Elgin's move to Microsoft and the gray, rain plagued city of Seattle, Bernadette gives birth to her precious Bee and opts for the life of a stay at home mother, a convenient choice given that she suffers from severe agoraphobia.

Bernadette gets by using the services of her new best friend, an online shopper from India, therefore she seldom has to leave home except to drive by school to pick up Bee. She's not into the cookie baking, fund-raising, and schmoozing that goes with the territory in yuppie heaven. She's an atheist to everyone else's God driven do-gooding and she doesn't entertain cause her idea of cooking is Chinese take-out.
This so-called erratic behavior deeply disturbs the neighbors though Bee and Elgie are perfectly content for life to go on as it always has. The result is a hilarious fiasco involving inept land clearing, a mudslide, and a high tone brunch. One mistake piles on top of another (literally) and before you know it the FBI is involved and Bernadette goes missing just days before a planned family cruise to Antarctica.

Semple's novel is so imaginative and original that I just didn't want to put it down. Along the way, I learned all kinds of things I never knew about Drake's Passage and the South Pole. But the larger lessons gleaned have to do with love, loyalty, hope, optimism, and persistence. Fifteen year old Bee is a marvel. Elgin, well, he's a man, what can I say? He may go off track for a bit but he finds his way back. And Bernadette? Uh uh. I'm not going there. It's up to you to discover. Meet Ms. Semple at

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