The reviews sounded interesting; a comedy about a notorious, agoraphobic, Seattle-hating wife and mother mysteriously vanishes. The author, Maria Semple, was a writer for the show Arrested Development, and that part alone got me interested. The eye catching cover helps, too. To give you an idea about what I was looking forward to, here's the summary, courtesy of Goodreads -
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.
Now that we're on the same page (or closer, anyway) I can tell you what went wrong. Unfortunately, the description fudges the details a bit, to make the events in the book sound much more interesting than they actually are. I won't spoil anything, but if you plan to read the book and want to be entirely un-opinionated going in, you might want to skip this.
The plot is supposedly about a woman, Bernadette, that "mysteriously vanishes," and her young daughters quest to find her. While Bernadette did indeed take off, it's no mystery. With the events leading up to it, it's no wonder why she left. Her husband, while trying to play the victim, seems the most confused, while it's basically his fault and it bothered me that he wouldn't own up to it. It's also fairly obvious where she went, even though pinning down the exact specifics took some work.
The first half of the book I found really fun. It's told mostly through e-mails and documents, and at first not much of it makes sense. What does this note have to do with that one? Actually, it has a lot to do with that one, but you won't realize it until much later. The e-mails come from a confusing assortment of people, some including:
- Bernadette to her virtual assistant in India, Manjula, who is paid 75 cents an hour
- Two mothers from Bee's school, Audrey and Soo-Lin, e-mailing each other back and forth, regarding school activities and their hatred for Bernadette
- Audrey and a gardener
- Bernadette's husband, Elgin, to a shrink at a treatment facility
- School newsletters
The second half of the book is where everything went downhill. First off, because you deal with the not-so-mysterious vanishing I mentioned before, and second because of the narration switch. The second half is told mostly through Bee's point of view, which unfortunately isn't very interesting. I was really into the unconventional storytelling in the first half; it reminded me of the Regarding the Fountains series, but not as funny and with no illustrations - womp womp. The narration switch took away the only part of the book that was still interesting. I think the author may have bit off more than she could chew. She had a great idea and it started strong, but started to fizzle out, like she didn't know how to wrap up all the different things she had going on (which was a lot).
What also bothered me in the second half was that it seemed to stop being a comedy, and turned into more of a family drama. I try to stay away from overly dramatic books, shows and movies when I can, because they bum me out (but sometimes they're so addicting, gaaah). Real life can be really shitty sometimes, why would I want to read about more (and often worse) shitty situations? Obviously this is when Bernadette leaves, but it's also when we start learning about who these characters really are, and some of them are not as likable as we thought.
But I guess that's life, hahah.
So those are my feelings/rantings on Where'd You Go, Bernadette. However if you're still interested in this book, don't let me convince you otherwise! It was quite popular when it was released, so I'd say there's still a pretty good chance you'll like it; and like I said, the first half was really entertaining!
One more thing to share. While Google-searching for the cover photo above, I also found the Chinese cover of the book. Theirs is much more interesting, I think! Hahah :)