A selection for the 2013 Tournament of Books, Where’d You Go, Bernadette (no question mark, which I find strange) by Maria Semple had been on my radar for a while, recommended in reviews and by friends. Semple’s background includes a stint as writer on Arrested Development, and the book is similar in its same snarky, frantic style. It does, though, have a beating heart that’s perhaps more akin to something from Modern Family.
The novel is made up of a hodgepodge of letters, reports, receipts and articles, tied together with the memories of Bee Branch, an 8th grader at a private school in Seattle. Bee’s mother is the Bernadette of the title, who disappears two days before Christmas, and the novel starts in the month leading up to it. Bee’s father in an executive at Microsoft, and the family is planning a trip to Antarctica, a present for Bee for her all-A grades.
Though the story is often about Bee’s search for Bernadette, it’s the woman herself who is the bright, shining star of the novel. Bernadette is a bundle of crazy, having had a series of disappointments and difficulties both personally and professionally. But watching her navigate her fear of the impending trip abroad and the people around her is a blast. She’s smart, complicated and interesting, just like the book, which I devoured in two days. Fair disclosure: I was also avoiding a deadline and cleaning the house, but still, this book was wildly engaging and entertaining. The ending was abrupt, so I wished for a bit more closure, but like Bee in the book, I’ll take what I can get when a book is this flat-out fun to read.