Sunday, December 2, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette, an architect who had received a MacArthur genius award, disappeared from the public eye when she moved to Seattle and devoted herself to being a housewife and an oddball recluse. Twenty years later, Bernadette disappears a second time. Her brilliant teenaged daughter, Bee, collects various memos and correspondence in her search for clues to her mother's whereabouts. These documents, together with Bee's wry commentary, form the structure of Maria Semple's highly entertaining Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Bee had convinced her parents to take a family trip to Antarctica at Christmas. They were to board their ship in Ushuaia, Argentina. "When we arrived at the dock, we were ushered into a kind of hut, with a wall of glass dividing it the long way. This was immigration, so of course there was a line. Soon the other side of the glass filled up with old people decked out in travel clothing and carrying backpacks with blue-and-white ribbons. It was the group that had just gotten off the ship, our Ghosts of Travel Future. They were giving us the thumbs-up, mouthing, You're going to love it, you have no idea how great it is, you're so lucky. And then everyone on our side started literally buzzing. Buzz Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin. On the other side was a scrappy little guy wearing a leather bomber jacket covered with NASA patches, and his arms were bent in at the elbows like he was itching for a fight. He had a genuine smile, and he gamely stood on his side of the glass while people in our group stood next to him and took pictures. Dad took one of me and him, and I'm going to tell Kennedy, Here's me visiting Buzz Aldrin in prison."

Semple's satirical humour and her playful style make Where'd You Go, Bernadette an engaging read. I loved it. I also appreciated one of the more sober messages in the novel: that stifling creativity can be dangerous to one's mental health.

Readalikes with quirky characters: The Woefield Poultry Collective (Susan Juby); Come, Thou Tortoise (Jessica Grant); and My Most Excellent Year (Steve Kluger).

No comments: