Sitting by the lake at the cottage, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple kept me laughing and reading through the hottest part of the day. That’s how good it was. I couldn’t tear myself away for long enough to go in for a cooling dip and I became down right anti-social with my friends.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is told in a series of ‘documents’ – emails, faxes, parent newsletters, reports etc – interspersed with 13 year old Bee Branch’s commentary. The story follows Bee’s mother, Bernadette, as she descends a slippery slope. Is she mad? Or just unlike the other other ‘Subaru parents’ who populate her life? The documents extracted from the Subaru parents are priceless in the way they capture this sort of parent. As a mother who spends much of her day at either school pick up or drop off, those passages made the novel worthwhile.
I enjoyed the commentary on life that Semple provided throughout her novel. As a former Vancouverite I could relate as she poked fun at Pacific Northwest types in Seattle. I also enjoyed the friendly ribbing handed out to Canadians. However, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is more than just a commentary on a certain kind of upper middle class lifestyle. It also conveys the angst of the artist who is no longer producing art. The insight into this type of character reveals may in fact reveal more than we know about Semple.
Who would like this book? As most people already know Semple has famously written for TV shows including Mad About You and Arrested Development. She is a humorist and a very good one at that. What she has produced in Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is by no means heavy literature, but it does stand above the notorious lightness of some chick lit. It is funny and clever. At times her commentary on modern life veers into territory normally occupied by the likes of Jonathan Franzen, but without the gravity that accompanies his work.