Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple


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" I tore through this book with heedless pleasure."
- Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom

Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces.

Which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where'd You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are, and the power of a daughter's love for her mother.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316204262
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/02/2013
Pages: 330
Sales rank: 3,810
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: HL820L (what's this?)

About the Author

Maria Semple is the author of This One Is Mine and Today Will Be Different. Before turning to fiction, she wrote for Mad About You, Ellen, and Arrested Development. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker. She lives in Seattle.

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.


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.

Student:Bee Branch

SSurpasses Excellence
AAchieves Excellence
WWorking towards Excellence

World ReligionS
Modern WorldS
Language ArtsS
Expressive MovementS


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? 30.00 USD
Invoice Due in Full Upon Receipt


A Conversation with Maria Semple
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is narrated by a fifteen-year-old and contains letters, doctors' reports, blog posts, and magazine articles. How did you come up with this unusual form?
My idea for the book began with Bernadette, a brilliant but unhinged woman who devotes herself to motherhood and whose unchanneled artistic energy is wreaking serious havoc in her life. Since she's the type who likes to boss people around, it seemed plausible and funny to me that she would overshare with the help. But as Bernadette is so crippled by social anxiety that she's borderline agoraphobic, I decided to make this help virtual. As soon as I began typing that first email from Bernadette to her virtual assistant in India, it came to me in a flash: I'm writing an epistolary novel! This filled me with excitement, as two of my favorite books of all time, Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos and English Passengers by Matthew Kneale, are epistolary novels. (There's something deliciously illicit about reading letters that aren't intended for you, isn't there?) I love the form and decided to just go crazy with it.
You wrote for TV shows like Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen before turning to fiction. How did your career as a TV writer inform Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
To me, what makes a great novel is a great story. In TV, story is king. I feel wildly lucky to have spent so much of my life in rooms with writers much better than myself, learning to craft a story.
You must have also learned a lot about comedy.
I learned that comedy is born out of strong characters. I won't begin writing a character until I have a clear take on them. At first, the take can be rather crude. For example, Audrey is religious, cheap, and easily offended. Soo-Lin is provincial, boring, and overly invested in the intrigue at Microsoft. And then, of course, the characters fill out in ways I don't expect. Audrey would become a master gardener and the mother of a juvie. Soo-Lin would end up having a blind father and would lean heavily on a loopy support group, Victims Against Victimhood. If you've got a strong, specific character, the comedy will unfurl. You mentioned Microsoft. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is full of precise details about the work environment there, plus a wide range of other subjects like the TED conference, Antarctica, the Los Angeles architecture scene of the '90s, private-school fundraising, brain-computer interface, and the logistics of getting someone institutionalized, to name a few. How much research did you do?
Not as much as it might seem! My talent isn't so much in traditional research as in finding really smart people and badgering them with questions. For example, I'd already decided that Elgie would work at Microsoft and that Soo-Lin would be his admin. Around that time, we went to the ballet and I started a conversation with a guy sitting next to me who, turns out, was a big-time engineer at Microsoft. He was incredibly friendly, so I asked him if I could come out to Microsoft for a visit. (I'd never been.) Two days later, he was walking me around the campus. Almost everything in Where'd You Go, Bernadette about Microsoft came from that one visit. Plus, this same VP read several drafts of the book and corrected all my terminology. Don't worry, he's thanked in the acknowledgments!
That anecdote paints an idyllic picture of your life in Seattle. But it would seem from the book that you don't much care for the place.
We moved to Seattle about four years ago. At first, I couldn't stand it. I didn't like the people; I couldn't find my way around the irrational street grid; the architecture was ugly; even the native plants seemed weird and unattractive. But Seattle's worst offense, in my dark mind, was that since moving there, I'd been unable to write. Luckily, I recognized a glimmer of comedy in my misery and out sprang the character of Bernadette. I began the book immediately and included all the well-crafted rants about Seattle that were stuck in my head. (Nobody wanted to hear it, and who could blame them?) By the time I was halfway through the book, I had started warming to Seattle. But I fended off any fuzzy thoughts until I finished my first draft. Now I thoroughly love Seattle.
Who have you discovered lately?
It makes me so happy to answer this, because the best books I've read all year were recommended to me by one of my favorite bookstore people, Debbie Boxer at Barnes & Noble in Seattle. We talk books, and one day I came in to buy At Last by Edward St. Aubyn, which a friend had recommended. Debbie mentioned that it was the fifth book in a series, and she went and found a paperback omnibus of the first four of St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Milk. I read them in a weekend. They're riotously funny. St. Aubyn writes sentences that are so beautiful it almost hurts to read them. And his dialogue is the best I've ever come across. I can't recommend these books enough. Oh, and on a final note, it was a high point of my career as an author the day I was able to go into the Barnes & Noble in Seattle and tell Debbie that Where'd You Go, Bernadette was a B&N Discover pick.

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 476 reviews.
OurBookAddiction More than 1 year ago
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.
janstan1 More than 1 year ago
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.
pinklotus More than 1 year ago
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. :)
EmmieSue More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.   
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
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. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't get into this book at all.
Ilovemister More than 1 year ago
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!
LynLO More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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...?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Book_and_recipe_Examiner 8 months ago
Bernadette Fox is the most talented architect no one has ever heard of. After a tragic incident involving the most resourceful house ever built in its time, Bernadette has suffered from massive anxiety and even agoraphobia. Then, her daughter Bee was born with a rare heart condition and almost didn’t survive to her first birthday. Now Bee is fifteen and getting ready to go off to boarding school, and the only thing she wants from her parents is a trip to Antarctica—no major challenge for her Seattle-based Microsoft executive father, but for her mother, that might prove a challenge, especially since there’s also a current war going on with one of the neighbors over a blackberry bush. Where’d You Go Bernadette explores deep into a daughter’s scavenger hunt for her mother, as well as exposing the challenges of living with anxiety, failure, and the overwhelming demands of life. It’s a hilarious, snarky, witty quest that reveals the importance of creative outlets, and pushing against the current of life to achieve your goals. This book is perfect for anyone who wants a clever laugh, and a bit of encouragement to go create something. For discussion question, similar reads, quotes, or a recipe for Blackberry French Toast Cupcakes with Blackberry Jam Whipped Cream, visit http://hub.me/amV1z
Lilly White More than 1 year ago
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.
CAJ45 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
BozoB More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful read!
HalKid2 10 days ago
This novel is fast, wildly creative, unpredictable, even a bit zany. Just don't give up on it. Because I nearly gave it up after completing the first section. At that point I thought it was going to be just another satirical look at the unique culture of of the Pacific Northwest. Affluent but dedicated parents in Seattle who compete around school volunteering. Terminal niceness. And one family that doesn't quite fit in. Fortunately, as I read on, the book became much more complex and compelling. At its heart is the newly arrived Branch family: •Elgin - a pioneering genius guru at Microsoft, whose Ted Talk is one of the most watched EVER. •Bernadette - a visionary architect and former MacArthur grant winner, who has trouble settling into Seattle. •Bee - their 15-year-old super smart daughter, with a history of health issues, and a budding interest in attending an Elite East Coast prep school. From the title, you know that at some point Bernadette disappears. But what you can't know (and I certainly won't give it away here) is why and how. There will be moments when you think you understand. But author Maria Semple has a whole host of surprises in store. You will meet villains who become heroes and supposed heroes who turn out to work purely to further their own self-interest. It's an interesting tale that examines the illusive nature of "truth" and, more specifically, what can happen when people interpret events differently and BELIEVE they understand something when they don't. The author builds the novel out of straight narration, supplemented by emails, letters, and assorted reports from physicians, police, and the FBI. It's a fun read.