It all begins with a promise: If eighth-grader Bee Fox earns a picture perfect report card, she and her family will depart on a cruise to Antarctica. The prospect of the trip is exciting; too exciting, it soon becomes apparent, to Bee's brilliant, severely agoraphobic architect mom, who, just a day before departure, simply disappears. Taking the loss of her mother to heart, Bee begins a feverish, yet systematic search for her, thus piecing together in the process the dynamics of an unforgettable family.
Where'd You Go, Bernadetteby Maria Semple
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her
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.
Brilliant, hilarious, endlessly inventive, and compulsively readable, Where'd You Go, Bernadette grabs you by the collar and never lets go. Semple is not only a masterful juggler, and an astute social critic, she is a magician!"Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here"
A delightfully funny book, that constantly catches one by surprise, Where'd You Go, Bernadette combines a shrewdly observed portrait of Seattle-life with, of all things, a mysterious disappearance in Antarctica. A pleasure."Matthew Kneale, author of When We Were Romans"
It was only a matter of time before Maria Semple turned her hilariously wicked, razor-sharp, acid-etched humor loose on Seattle, and set her impeccable laser sights on the heart of Microsoft. At times a tears-to-your-eyes laugher that skewers my own home town (and quite possibly my own mother), Where'd You Go, Bernadette is also a compassionate look at family dysfunction, the paralysis of genius, and good old-fashioned parental love. Cleverly constructed and brilliantly executed, Semple has driven this one home with great authority, and has proven, once again, that she ranks among contemporary literature's finest satirists."Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain"
With a sure feel for the screwball and the slapstick, Maria Semple deliciously sends up the privileged, overachieving, PC world of Emerald City. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a crazy quilt of an epistolary novel, utterly contemporary yet pleasingly old-fashioned, and always light and witty."Stewart O'Nan, author of The Odds"
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is fresh and funny and accomplished, but the best thing about it was that I never had any idea what was going to happen next. It was a wild ride..."Kate Atkinson, author of Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog"
Maria Semple dissects the gory complexities of familial dysfunction with a deft and tender hand. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a triumph of social observation and black comedy by a skillful chronicler of moneyed malaise."Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers"
In her second novel...Semple pieces together a modern-day comic caper full of heart and ingenuity....a compelling composite of a woman's life-and the way she's viewed by the many people who share it. As expected from a writer who has written episodes of Arrested Development, the nuances of mundane interactions are brilliantly captured, and the overarching mystery deepens with each page, until the thoroughly satisfying dénouement."Publisher's Weekly Starred Review"
Semple's snappy writing and spot-on humor make this one of the funniest beach reads of the summer."Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis Star Tribune"
[A] high-energy, often hilarious epistolary novel."- Brangien Davis, Seattle Magazine"
If you read only one book this summer about an agoraphobic mother and her broken promise to take her daughter Bee on a trip to Antarctica, make it this one....Semple writes like an oversized plume, finding all your tickle spots with ease."Holley Simmons, Washington Post Express"
An uproarious comedy of manners"People Magazine
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Read an Excerpt
The first annoying thing is how, anytime I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, "The most important thing is for you to understand it's not your fault." You'll notice that wasn't even the question. When I press him, he says the second annoying thing, "The truth is complicated. There's no way anyone can ever completely know everything about another person."
Mom disappears into thin air two days before Christmas without telling me? Of course it's complicated. Just because it's complicated, just because you think you can't ever know another person completely, it doesn't mean you can't try.
It doesn't mean I can't try.
PART ONE: MOM VERSUS THE GNATS
Monday, November 15
* * *
Galer Street School is where compassion, academics and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.
|W||Working towards Excellence|
Bee is a pure delight. Her love of learning is infectious, as are her kindness and humor. Bee is unafraid to ask questions. Her goal is always deep understanding of any given topic, not merely getting a good grade. The other students look to Bee for help in their studies, and she is always quick to respond with a smile. Bee exhibits extraordinary concentration when working alone; when working in a group, she is a quiet and confident leader. Of special note is what an accomplished flutist Bee continues to be. The year is only a third over, but already I am mourning the day Bee graduates from Galer Street and heads out into the world. I understand she is applying to boarding schools back East. I envy the teachers who get to meet Bee for the first time, and to discover for themselves what a lovely young woman she is.
* * *
That night at dinner, I sat through Mom and Dad's "We're-so-proud-of-you's," and "She's-a-smart-one's," until there was a lull.
"You know what it means," I said. "The big thing it means."
Mom and Dad frowned question marks at each other.
"You don't remember?" I said. "You told me when I started Galer Street that if I got perfect grades the whole way through, I could have anything I wanted for a graduation present."
"I do remember," Mom said. "It was to ward off further talk of a pony."
"That's what I wanted when I was little," I said. "But now, I want something different. Do you want to know what it is?"
"I'm not sure," Dad said. "Do we?"
"A family trip to Antarctica!" I pulled out the brochure I'd been sitting on. It was from an adventure travel company that does cruises to exotic places. I opened it to the Antarctica page and passed it across the table. "If we go, it has to be over Christmas."
"This Christmas?" Mom said. "Like in a month?" She got up and started stuffing empty take-out containers into the bags they were delivered in.
Dad was already devouring the brochure. "It's their summer," he said. "It's the only time you can go."
"Because ponies are cute." Mom tied the handles in a knot and stuffed the bags in the trash.
"What do you say?" Dad looked up at Mom.
"Isn't this a bad time for you because of work?"
"We're studying Antarctica," I said. "I've read all the explorer's journals and I'm doing my presentation on Shackleton." I started wiggling in my chair. "I can't believe it. Neither of you are saying no."
"I was waiting for you," Dad said to Mom. "You hate to travel."
"I was waiting for you," Mom said to Dad. "You have to work."
"Oh my God. That's yes!" I jumped out of my chair. "That's a yes!" My joy was so infectious that Ice Cream woke up and started barking and doing victory laps around the kitchen table.
"Is that a yes?" Dad asked Mom.
"That's a yes," Mom said.
* * *
Tuesday, November 16
From: Bernadette Fox
To: Manjula Kapoor
Something unexpected has come up and I'd love it if you could work extra hours. From my end, this trial period has been a lifesaver. I hope it's working for you, too. If so, please let me know ASAP because I need you to work your Indian magic on a huge project.
OK: I'll stop being coy.
You know I have a daughter, Bee. (She's the one you order the medicine for and wage valiant battle with the insurance company over.) Apparently, my husband and I told her she could have anything she wanted if she graduated middle school with straight-A's. The straight A's have arrived or should I say straight S's, because Galer Street is one of those liberal, grades-erode-self-esteem type schools (let's hope you don't have them in India) and so what does Bee want? To take a family trip to Antarctica!
Of the million reasons I don't want to go to Antarctica, the main one is that it will require me to leave the house. You might have figured by now that's something I don't much like to do. But I can't argue with Bee. She's a good kid. She has more character than me and Elgie and the next ten guys combined. Plus she's applying to boarding school for next fall, which she'll of course get into because of said A's. Whoops, S's! So, it would be in pretty bad taste to deny Buzzy this.
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 150 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 turn their curiosity towards me, and expect pleasantry in return. I'm getting a panic attack just thinking about it. A little social anxiety never hurt anyone, am I right?
If I give you the info, could you pretty please take over the paperwork, visas, plane tickets, everything involved with getting us three from Seattle to the White Continent? Is this something you have time for?
Oh! You already have credit card numbers to pay for airfare, trip and accoutrements. But in terms of your salary, I'd like you to take it directly out of my personal account. When Elgie saw the Visa charge for your work last month even though it wasn't much money he didn't like the idea that I'd hired a virtual assistant from India. I told him I wouldn't be using you anymore. So, if we could, Manjula, let's keep our budding romance an illicit one.
* * *
Dear Ms. Fox,
It would be my pleasure to assist you with your family travel plans to Antarctica. Attached please find the contract for moving forward on a full-time basis. Where indicated, please include your bank routing number. I look forward to working together.
* * *
Invoice from Delhi World Assistants
Invoice Number: BFB39382
Associate: Manjula Kapoor
40 hours a week at $0.75 USD/hr.
TOTAL: 30.00 USD
Invoice Due in Full Upon Receipt
Meet the Author
Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles, where she also wrote for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. She escaped from Los Angeles and lives with her family in Seattle, where her second novel takes place.
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What fun this book was! Quick recap of key characters: Bernadette – Award winning architect turned recluse who hides out the days in an airstream camper she had installed by her house so she can avoid the house help. She also has a virtual assistant in India who she hires to basically handle all the day to day duties she has including ordering food, shopping, and planning all the details of their upcoming vacation (at only 75 cents an hour which I confess gave me a momentary idea before I was horrified that I even considered it!). Elgin “Elgie” – Her Microsoft genius husband who really has no clue of the life that exists around him, including his own family. Such an enigma that he thinks it’s totally appropriate to work at the office without his shoes walking around in only his socks…which is probably gross considering how much it rains in Seattle. How cool would it be to be considered such a god that you could walk around funking up the air around the office and no one would dare tell you to put your shoes back on? Balakrishna “Bee” – their daughter who is an extremely intelligent child who is probably the most normal character in the book! The Gnats – What Bernadette calls the other private school moms who are a bunch of self-absorbed and narcissistic women. Their antics constantly had me laughing, while another part of me wanted to poke them in their eyeballs. I actually respected Bernadette a lot for her reserved way of dealing with them instead of giving a karate chop to the neck. Truly a group of 1 percenters as another reviewer described. Money seems to come out of the water faucets for these people. I suspect they might even use dollars as toilet paper. Their reality is unimaginable for the other 99 percent of the population. Yet somehow…I liked Bernadette. Yes she seems like a nut job and the family has no idea how the rest of the world lives, but she is a woman who loves her child. I found it laugh out loud funny throughout. The majority was written in various forms of correspondence format. I was really pulling for Bernadette despite all her flaws (because are we not all flawed? Just in different ways?). I was really pulling for Bernadette and hoping she would be found. As for if she was, you will have to read for yourself to find out. People will probably either love it or not, depending on whether or not you can suspend belief while reading it.
I read this as part of an online book club. As such, I was supposed to read it in 4 parts. I couldn't do it. I just kept reading to the end. The author used a style of writing that made me just want to keep reading to find out what came next. It was funny. Some of what the characters experienced was just plain awful(but funny too!) I loved it and would recommend it.
Witty, fantastic read. Would love to read a sequel to this! Also, thanks to the reviewer who pointed out that the actual, full-length e-Book isn't buggy like the sample. :)
So you live in Seattle and you totally get all the satirical references to the “Emerald City” lifestyle. On the other hand, you live, say in Austin, Texas, [armadillos, Whole Foods, Dell Computer and Willie Nelson] and you realize that any dream you may have had about traveling to Seattle, perhaps to live there in retirement, just isn’t worth it. Maria Semple’s novel, “Where’d You Go Bernadette,” mercilessly pans the city [and don’t get her started on Canada!]. Upon opening the hardcover book, you will discover that a child is searching for her mother [Bernadette – said title character] and that said child is a student at Galer Street School: “...a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.” The first clue that the book will be a humourous treat to read is the redundancy of the words: “...connectitude join together...” In my opinion, it takes a humor writer of the first water to even conceive of such massive redundancy in the second line of her book. Although a careful reader may wonder why the book opens with a child’s report card [said child Surpasses Excellence in all her studies], the answer is not forthcoming until near the end of the book when the answer to the title question begins to make sense. Until then, the reader is taken on an hysterical ride through other people’s e-mail, private notes, hospital bills, magazine articles as well as: REAL-TIME ¿ FLASH reports. Maria Semple gives us an Epistolary Novel – one told as an exchange of letters – the brilliance of her story telling arises as we enjoy our natural tendency to gossip by reading the private – never meant to be seen in public – mail from one person to another. Mail that paints Bernadette’s and her neighbor’s private and devilish feelings in opposition to their public, virtuous, personas. Bernadette’s husband, a Microsoft Star, gave a TEDTalk that every character in the book reports: “...was the fourth-most watched TEDTalk of all time...!!!” And that, dear review readers, is HOW YOU KNOW that the man is a STAR – there are other clues to his star-status but he is SO NICE one must [if one is the author] find a way to stress his stardom. And, in keeping with the humorous tone of the book, it is necessary to refrain from making him a Gold, Silver or Bronze TEDTalker. Likewise, if it was only the fifth-most watched YouTube-TEDTalk of all time, who would care? So fourth-most watched it is. My recommendation: READ THIS BOOK [and since the e-readers who wrote reviews on this site seem to have had a hard time knowing if the page was turned – see other reviewers on this page] READ A HARDCOVER. I DID. AND I’M GLAD.
The bugs in the sample are only in the beginning and are pretty easy to navigate around. Don't let that stop you from reading this, it's very enjoyable.
Funny, realistic, and touching. I could relate to bernadette and the gnats, it had me laughing so hard at times and then crying the next. Loved it,
This is a wonderful book; a fun and fast read. The story is told through emails, notes and faxes. If that sounds dry, it's not! Take a chance on this intriguing mystery.
I totally fell in love with this gem of a book. Its a story that's a bit far fetched and the characters a bit over the top, but it is that quirkyness wich ultimately gives it so much heart.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is the second novel by American author and TV writer, Maria Semple. When Bernadette Fox disappears two days before Christmas and a scheduled family trip to Antarctica, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee is determined to track her down. She is sure that her dad, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch, knows more than he’s letting on. And she’s convinced that the shouting match with another school-mom, Audrey Griffiths, was the trigger for the disappearance. Bee’s narration of events is interspersed with emails, notes, a school report, letters, bills, blog posts, announcements, journal articles, a poem, an audio transcript and several faxes, each in a different font and format, and all of which fill in the background facts on incidents and characters. Thus the reader learns about Bernadette’s decline from celebrated young architect to socially anxious semi-recluse, Bee’s precarious early childhood and Elgin’s rise to MS fame, as well as what led to Bernadette’s flight and why the FBI got involved. Semple’s characters develop, and not always in an expected manner: one surprisingly discovers a conscience; another disappointingly gives in to temptation; another metamorphoses, perhaps predictably, from small and benign to large and threatening. They are characters that are familiar from everyday life: the fawning admin, the venomous school mom, the hard-working father, the text-book psychiatrist, the excruciatingly enthusiastic fund-raiser. As Bee trails her mom to the ends of the earth, the full gamut of reactions to loss is depicted. This is a hilarious book that nonetheless touches on some topical issues including work/life balance, trust, identity theft, post-traumatic stress and the best way to remove blackberry bushes. Readers may find some parts bring a lump to the throat, but will spend most of this clever novel laughing out loud.
I don't get it! I bit again based on reviews. Laugh out? I don't think so!!! I kept reading it and in the end and overall it ended ok. This book is only ok. Get it from the library or wait until it sells for $1.99. Reviewers are really screwed up!
I have no idea what all the hype about this book was about. It was boring and not at all relatable. The only likable character was the daughter and even she got annoying.
I did not read this book I listened to it. I have to say Kathleen did a wonderful job in reading this and Maria wrote a very entertaining book. It was a fun, quick, unique book. I really enjoyed it. I couldn't stop listening. Bee was great she was strong despite having a father who is never home and a very unique mother. She was by far the best and my favorite character. Bernadette was crazy hilarious more on the crazy side and highly entertaining with all the stuff she gets herself into. I had a good time listening to all said incidents. This would have been 5 stars if Bernadette didn't make me so mad at the end. Still it is a worthwhile read and I would recommend for anyone who likes quirky humor with a great cast of characters.
I thought it was a good book, fun to read but I thought the ending was a little wierd and abrupt. But over all a good book
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a CLUNKER of a title that is belied by an otherwise swiftly plotted novel peopled with charmingly, humorous, and clever narrators. It's a delightful--and very funny!--read! It concerns the disappearance of famous but reclusive architect, the title's Bernadette, and her precocious and beloved daughter, Bee's, determination to find out where her mother has gone. It's an almost-epistolary novel, but information is revealed in all manner of documents the novel which amounts to a kind of scrapbook of Bee's quest. The book is also very much as send-up of Seattle, but by the end, I thought it was kind of a love letter to the city, too. Snarky on the surface, anything but underneath.
Intriguing story, and interesting use of a contemporary techno-style. I noticed I had a feeling of empathy for all the characters. I thought the end was somewhat abrupt, and with much of the supportive character situations left unfulfilled, or unanswered. I suppose this creates somewhat of a segue for the next book...?
I lovwd the characters and plot and how the novel was written i documents and Bee's recollections. It was also funny and a nice happy read, perhaps something to read after Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Give this book a read- you wont regret it!
I loved this novel and read it in two sittings from cover to cover. The author has pin sharp wit and created the best characters I have read in a while. The characters were not simple, flat or perfect. They were complexly flawed and beautiful. I laughed out loud many times so if anyone says this book is not funny or enjoyable they would probably hate a basket of puppies too so disregard their opinions.
This one had SO much promise! I loved the creative way that it was written, and it was really hard to put down. I don't have a lot of critical things to say except I feel like she could have taken the plot line way further and made the book GREAT. I felt like there were some dropped story lines that could have been developed, and the ending was a little blah. Overall though it was an intriguing and a fun read.
Couldn't get into this book at all.
This book is not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. It is kind of on the kooky side. It is funny and sad at the same time. The ending really touched me, which doesn't happen very often.
Traumatized LA architect escapes to Seattle with family, only to fight both her internal demons and a novel culture. Conflicts with her neighbor bring focus to different views of the world. Husband and daughter provide entertaining sidelights. Resolution involves a trip to Antartica.
This is the worst layout ofan ebook Ihaveeverseen from a book that wasn't free. The publisher should be ashamed. I am going to pick up the print copy from the library to finish it.
If you watch reality TV because you love the feeling of schadenfreude it provides, you may also enjoy Where’d You Go Bernadette. This viciously funny book offers a voyeuristic peek into the minds of characters in the grip of righteous anger, self-righteous anger, and lovelorn delusion, mainly through the convention of us reading their email and other forms of correspondence. Some of the characters have a delightful lack of self-awareness- or at least they start out that way. But this book also has a heart, and the characters are revealed to have redeeming qualities along with their many flaws (not to mention one character’s truly heart-rending back story), and at the end you may find yourself sympathizing with them in spite of earlier pettiness and self-absorption. The structure of the book makes for a rollicking good time, at first because you the reader are set up to see warning signs of future calamities that the characters cannot foresee, and then because you are trying to solve the titular mystery of Bernadette’s whereabouts and plans. A smart, highly entertaining read with satirical bite.
Great book. Only took me two days. I would reccomend to anyone.