Monday, August 26, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I had seen this book at bookstores quite a bit and the cover intrigued me, but it was only after a friend recommended it, that I picked it up. It's a story of Bernadette Fox, an architect who moved with her husband to Seattle when he was offered a job with Microsoft.  They have a teenage daughter Bee.  Bernadette was a renowned architect despite only completely one project.  When they moved to Seattle she bought a rundown former girls school and was determined to live in it, while they renovated.  Beyond some work on the house she never designed anything again (and never got very far in renovating the house to her neighbors' dismay).

Bee attends a private school and Bernadette does not fit in with any of the other parents - she refers to the mothers as "gnats" She is agoraphobic and introverted at a school where parent involvement is strongly encouraged.  She farms out all of her mundane tasks to a virtual assistant in India as she can't get herself to do them herself.

As an incentive to Bee to get good grades, her parents tell her that she can have anything she wants if she gets all A's.  Bee succeeds and surprises her parents by asking for a trip to Antarctica (they had thought she would ask for a pony).  Bee's father, Elgin Branch, is game.  At first, Bernadette throws herself into researching the trip and acquiring everything they will need to bring but she gets increasingly distressed about the trip as it gets closer.  Elgin is so concerned about Bernadette's mental state he actually tries to have her committed.

The book is an epistolary novel which can be a little confusing at times as it jumps from character to character quite a bit and not just the three members of the Fox family but also, Soo-Lin - Elgin's admin, Audrey Griffin - the Foxes neighbor, and others.  I enjoyed it and while yes I definitely thought in the beginning that Bernadette was crazy (but extremely entertaining) I could definitely understand her side of the story once it all came out in the end.  She had moved to Seattle to support her husband's new job, but never felt happy there and needed to get away from all that to find peace.

Ironically, it seems to be somewhat similar to what my Mom is going through right now.  No she didn't have a breakdown and disappear, but after a successful hip repair surgery last week she was moved to a rehab facility this week to begin physical therapy.  When I called her the other day she was very positive and when I asked if she was bored and wanted me to send her anything, she said she had been busy, so no need.  I talked to my sister and she said the same thing, Mom is treating this like a retreat.  Dealing with my Dad the past couple of years has been hard on her, especially since she can't easily get around on her own like she used to if and when she wants a break.  She's a very independent person - like Bernadette, but not agoraphobic.  Now that she's finally in a completely different environment and knows that Dad's being taken care of, she can relax and focus on herself.  Different situation in many ways but still enough similarities.

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