Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Rating – 3

I have to admit, I am torn on this review.  I found the story entertaining and wanted to get to the end, but I wasn’t really all that happy with where it ended up.  It was also fairly unbelievable, but the craziness of it all was partly what made it entertaining.  It is definitely satire, but the outcomes and some of the characters’ actions still bothered me.

Once an award winning architect, Bernadette leaves it all behind to become a wife and mother.  She is trying to hold it all together, but she has definitely lost an important part of her identity. She is now living a life completely out of place.  She has few friends aside from Bee, her 15 year old daughter and the other mom’s look down on her.  She absolutely hates Seattle, and even gets a virtual assistant to do her basic errands for her.  Her husband, Elgie, works for Microsoft and is well respected, even idolized, by others in the community.  And then there is Bee.  Bee is highly intelligent and well liked by everyone.  Bee has been promised the gift of her choice for doing well in school and chooses a trip to Antarctica.  Bernadette, who is opposed to leaving the house unless absolutely necessary, struggles with this.  A string of very crazy events occur and Bernadette goes missing.  Bee cannot handle this and makes it her mission to find her even after it is assumed Bernadette is dead.

This story is told through a combination of documents (emails, magazine articles, bills, etc.) Bee has collected and narration by Bee herself.  It flows well, and the documents give interesting  insight to each of the characters.

Things I liked:

-There is a lot of action to keep you going.  Poor Bernadette (who is her own worst enemy) moves from one disaster to the next.

-Bee is so in love with her mom.  They are one another’s biggest fans, and in their own way, they have formed a bond that cannot be broken.

-It’s funny.  The satire is over the top at times, but I found myself laughing at Bernadette’s reaction to the gnats.

-I actually felt sorry for Bernadette at times even though she was her own worst enemy.  At times, her over the top reaction to things was actually warranted.

Things I didn’t like:

-Elgie.  He is absent at best and a total jerk/ horrible husband and father at worst.  Do you ever speak to your wife?  Instead of automatically believing rumors, you might try an actual conversation before turning to over the top solutions.

-Bee is often left to take care of things a girl her age shouldn’t be responsible for.  This is almost celebrated in the story, but I would’ve liked a bit more acknowledgement of how this wasn’t right.

-The end.  Really?  Everyone is just going to move on?  I don’t think so.  I felt like there was little to no closure.  What do they do as they all try to move on?  I needed a few more chapters or a well written epilogue.

**Spoliers**

Okay, all I can say about the end is, really?  Bernadette is going to go on like everything is fine now after Elgie tried to have her admitted against her will and got another woman pregnant?  Oh, you’re sorry and didn’t mean to have an illegitimate child while I was missing? Sure.  Everything is forgiven.  After all, I made some mistakes as well.  Nope.  I don’t think so.  While I’m good with the satire and the over the top scenarios in the story, this took it too far for me.  I lacked closure after all the pain she experienced.  Crazy as the scenarios were, I found myself rooting for Bernadette and Bee.  How is Bee going to move on like everything is fine?  She now has a new sibling by a woman she can’t stand.  And really, do we think Soo-Lin is really going to end her delusions and manipulation now?  Doubtful.

What can I say?  I really couldn’t stand Soo-Lin.  She was a conniving, manipulative, delusional person.  I would really like to see what happens with her and her baby.  How does this all hold together long term now that Bernadette is back?  Does Elgie continue his weekly “family” dinners, tutoring, and financial support?  Ugh.  I think she is the true villain of the story.  Audrey was bad, but nothing by comparison.

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