7/23/15

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? . . .


Earlier this year I committed (in an action that was labeled "sexist" by a friend of mine) to read more female authors this year. My first toe in the water of estrogen-fueled words (now THAT is sexist) was the highly recommended "Where'd You Go, Bernadette".

I am really glad I made this my first effort toward promising diversity in the gender of my authors for at least the balance of this year. It was a wonderful, delightful read.There is also a certain amount of mystery surrounding the Fox family but they are planning a trip to Antarctica anyway. You read that correctly.

A combination of first hand story-telling (from the perspective of Bee Fox, the 15-year-old wunderkind that we learn has survived a heart condition, several surgeries, and some very eccentric parents to be a highly-coveted-candidate for Choate), several e-mail and instant message exchanges between various characters (that left me scratching my head as to how Bee came in to them - until all was revealed in due time), press clippings, and hand-written letters (which, again, are explained). There is also a party being planned for perspective parents (Mercedes Parents) for the school Bee attends and - as part of that - you get to read some HILARIOUS e-mails between the school's fundraising guy (who uses actual lightning bolts in his note) and the mother planning the party (Bernadette's arch-nemesis) and the school's parents in general.

You also meet great characters like a remote assistant (who helps plans the trip), a helicopter mom from school who happens to also work for Bee's dad, a local weather man who takes his job very seriously, and some spunky teenagers who work a gift shop in Antarctica. I digress.

Here's the basic thrust of it - Bernadette (a woman we want to immediately believe is depressed, anxiety-ridden, anti-social, and maybe an actual whack-a-doodle until we find out she is a certified, award-winning genius) marries another genius programmer and they leave LA for a life in damp Seattle (Microsoft job). They buy an otherwise condemned property and promise to eventually make it home. They raise a daughter (one of the reviews I read said they are "helicopter parents" but I actually found them to be engaged and empowering (they don't fight Bee's battles or cut the crust of her sandwiches and you'll learn why they are so focused on their child). All seems to be going right for Elgie (the dad) and Bee (off to Choate) and wrong (Bernadette) and forward (they are going to Antarctica, damn it.) Along the way Bernadette, clearly struggling with something from page one-ish, does her best to just manage "life". Not always well. She has issues with other parents (she hits one with her car), issues with the school (she just drops Bee off vs. walking her to her classroom), issues with strangers (the poor landscaper), and people otherwise intending to help,

The book is a mystery. Around the end of the "second act" of the book Bernadette does, in fact, disappear (as per the title - no need for a spoiler alert). That is the core of it but this is, in no way, your typical mystery/whodunit (no one is murdered - rest assured). It is very, very funny and it is sharp and shrewd. The characters are sharp and clever. The use of various "source materials" for the book keeps it interesting and gives you multiple voices and perspectives, and the emotional complexity of a wife/mother disappearing leaving her frustrated husband and loving daughter behind is deftly handled.

All will be illuminated in the end and you'll be glad you stuck around. I will say this (observation vs. criticism)  the book had a softer, slightly "happier"ending (specifically the last few pages) than I expected. Most of male authors (at least the ones I read) would not have been quite as "and a bow on top" about the resolution of 300 pages of complicated, confusing things but that's just me being sexist. Again.

Go read this book. Seriously. Good summer reading.