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Friday, September 07, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?


No one in Seattle really knows much about Bernadette Fox.  And that it is precisely why the other mothers at her daughter's prestigious private-school love to gossip about her so much.  Oh, they know that her husband is one of the stars on the Microsoft campus, and they all like her bright fourteen-year-old daughter, Bee, just fine.  But Bernadette has committed the cardinal sin among the private-school mother set: she refuses to "volunteer" for any of the little jobs that take up so much of their time. 

Bernadette does not even pretend that she wants to be involved.  Not only does she not speak to them in the school drop-off zone, she doesn't even notice when she runs over the foot of one mother insisting to speak with her.  Something is wrong with this woman; they are sure of it, and they are going to make her pay for it.

Elgie knows that something is going on with Bernadette but his top secret project for Microsoft, and the huge amount of money he brings home for managing it, allow him to ignore the problem - or, at least, postpone dealing with it.  Things do seem to be going well enough, after all.  Bernadette is managing the home front efficiently (although with help he knows nothing about), and Bee is doing so well in her studies that she has qualified to claim her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica.  

Then all hell breaks lose, Bernadette disappears, and, after a while, Bee seems to be the only one still looking for her. 

Believe it or not, serious as all of this sounds, Where'd You Go, Bernadette is the funniest novel I have read this year.  The book, a satirical look at the whole Microsoft/Seattle lifestyle, is filled with laugh-out-loud moments that will have the reader wondering just who the "crazies" in the story really are.  But, although it sometimes borders on slapstick, the novel does offer some touching reminders and insights into the relationship between mothers and daughters.  It will be young Bee, after all, who refuses to give up the search for her missing mother - even when others are certain that she is lost forever - and the precocious teen is determined to go to the ends of the earth to find her. 

Among the memorable "little moments" in the novel, is the scene in which Bee discovers the wonder of Abbey Road, the 1969 Beatles album that was to be the last the band ever recorded.  Bee's shock and embarrassment when her mother sings along with every one of the songs - in perfect sync with the recorded vocals - is a smile-inducing reminder that children find it impossible to believe their parents were ever young enough to be "cool."  Even Bee, a girl who considers her mom to be her best friend, cannot quite make that leap.

Adding to the fun, Where'd You Go, Bernadette is very cleverly structured to tell its story largely via a series of email messages, handwritten notes, transcripts of conversations, and the like.  This places the reader inside the heads of a variety of characters who reveal more about themselves than they want to reveal - probably even to themselves.  This one is hard to put down.


And, especially for those who missed the book trailer that initially made me want to read this one  - you have to see this:


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