Book Review 15: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

18 Feb

This book has been reviewed no less than five times already on Cannonball Read V thus far. I kept seeing reviews, most of them were raves, some were neutral, so I figured I’d take a look. Semple was a producer on Arrested Development, Mad About You and Suddenly Susan, all shows I loved in my youth, or love now, or both. You can feel some of those sensibilities in the book, and you can really feel how she traditionally writes for the screen. It’s no surprise that the movie rights have been acquired. Nor is it a surprise that the 500 Days of Summer writers are scripting it, because it’s full of that same type of whimsical quirkiness.

This is a family drama, at heart. It’s about Bernadette, the reclusive mom who is fiercely protective of her daughter but also fiercely paranoid and losing it a bit. It’s about her husband Elgin, a high level Microsoft executive work-a-holic who realizes too late his family is falling to pieces. And it’s about the mature beyond her years Bee, their daughter, who ends up driving the story, suffering hurt but moving past it with the incredibly resiliency of a teenager and forcing her parents to face their problems.

Caveat: this book has an enormous quirk factor. Antarctica, eccentric architecture, mud slides (the natural disaster, not the drink), odd homes, prescription drugs, outsourcing your life to India, recluses, etc. If you’re not into that, I’d recommend staying away. But if you can look past the oddball details, there’s a compelling story here. It keeps your attention, it’s funny, and really it makes you think about how people handle themselves when tragedy strikes, or life deals them a hard blow.

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