Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Lost and Found

OK, I guess I'll call this my annual Beach Read. Except this time it was a Listen, not a Read. Certain books work well as audiobooks, and Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple qualifies. The book consists entirely of a collection of documents – e-mails, letters, texts, even FBI reports. That may sound clunky, but Semple's witty, satiric tone makes the narrative flow smoothly.

Bernadette Fox is a Seattle housewife, mother of clever middle-schooler Bee, married to Microsoft super inventor Elgin Branch. And she is not a happy camper. Those of you who are fond of Seattle and admiring of Microsoft may want to skip this one, as Bernadette eviscerates both with a witty (maybe a little snarky) commentary that made me laugh and wince at the same time. In addition she dismisses her fellow middle school mother as 'gnats', and becomes a virtual hermit in a old mansion so rundown that blackberry vines poke through the floorboards and roof leaks are part of the decor.

When Bee decides to redeem her parents' promise of a reward for straight A's (actually straight S's for Surpasses Excellence – the lowest grade is W for Working Towards Excellence) by demanding a Christmas trip to Antarctica, Bernadette's panic at planning the trip (and leaving the house) leads her to a series of unfortunate decisions, while Elgin's workaholic inattention to his family's difficulties makes things even worse. Disaster ensues and Bernadette disappears.

The book's last sections, where Elgin and Bee search for her, are not as sharp and witty, but they do allow Semple to soften her tone and let the family members sort through their problems in an honest and believable way.

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