Reviews for Where'd You Go, Bernadette : A Novel

Booklist Reviews 2012 July #1
*Starred Review* Bernadette Fox, practically a shut-in, who's hired a virtual assistant in India to remotely arrange every task, from hiring a gardener to planning the trip to Antarctica she's promised her star-student daughter, Bee seems pretty crazy. But don't be fooled. Suspicions that madcap Bernadette is as clever as her last name implies will be confirmed heartily. When she's party to some unfortunate events, her erratic behavior leads her husband, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch, to commit her to a local mental-health facility. But Bernadette intercepts his plan at the pass, escapes the staged intervention, and disappears without a trace. Though much of the story is told through documents--e-mails, letters, magazine articles--precocious young teen Bee as narrator is great company, entertaining and convincing in her comportment. TV writer Semple (Arrested Development) pokes fun at the Pacific Northwest as only a Seattlelite can and concocts a caper that, if seen from outer space, might be a mess but in the minutiae of its tangles is clear and rewarding. Under the guise of a hilarious romp, Semple explores the universal questions of why we do what we do and love what we love to some sweet and unexpected ends. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2012 August
Motherless in Seattle

Bernadette Fox loathes Seattle, a city she calls the “dreary upper-left corner of the Lower Forty-eight.” Her husband, Elgie, has become the stereotypical Seattle man: a Microsoft executive who rides a bike and works endless hours on code-named IT projects. And don’t even get her started on the weather.

“What you’ve heard about the rain: it’s all true,” says Bernadette. “So you’d think it would become part of the fabric, especially among the lifers. But every time it rains, and you have to interact with someone, here’s what they’ll say: ‘Can you believe the weather?’ And you want to say, ‘Actually, I can believe the weather. What I can’t believe is that I’m actually having a conversation about the weather.’”

The only thing Bernadette hates more than Seattle, in fact, is the people who live there. This has not earned her many fans among the other mothers at the private school where her precocious daughter Bee is enrolled. Once an up-and-coming architect in Southern California, Bernadette now spends her days holed up in their decaying house (a former home for wayward girls) and relying on an Internet assistant in India to run her errands.

When 15-year-old Bee chooses a family trip to Antarctica as her reward for stellar grades, the agoraphobic Bernadette steels herself for a journey way, way outside her comfort zone. But as the vacation nears, Bernadette’s increasingly eccentric behavior worries Elgie, who stages a bumbling, ill-fated intervention that ends in Bernadette’s disappearance and presumed death. But in this bitingly funny novel, nothing is what it appears.

From a writer for "Arrested Development," a hilarious look at life in the Rainy City.

One might think no one could hate Seattle as much as Bernadette. But author Maria Semple is here to tell you differently. She moved to Seattle four years ago after leaving behind a successful career as a television writer in Los Angeles.

“I love Seattle now,” she insists during a phone interview from her Seattle home on, yes, a rainy day. “At first, I didn’t like it. I left a very successful writing career and I didn’t have a career. I have this fiendish creative energy I can’t turn off, and I was only applying it to how much I hated Seattle. I caught myself doing that and thought, hey, that’s kind of funny.”

Thus Bernadette Fox was born. But Semple hastens to add that is the only similarity between her and her character. Semple’s 8-year-old daughter does attend private school, but the moms there are nothing like the book’s obnoxious social climbers.

And unlike Bernadette, who abruptly abandoned her promising career after a traumatic event two decades before, Semple has worked steadily in her chosen profession for years. She published her first novel, This One is Mine, in 2008, and has written for magazines and TV, including “Mad About You” and the cult favorite “Arrested Development.”

“I can see why TV writing might seem glamorous,” Semple says. “But it gobbles up your time like you can’t believe. It’s seven days a week, until 2 or 3 in the morning.”

After working on a critically revered show like “Arrested Development,” Semple says, she saw that it was time to walk away from what some would say is a dream gig. So she and her boyfriend—and here she stops to chide herself, “Boyfriend. It sounds like I just picked up some guy at a bar. We’ve been together 25 years.”—packed up their young daughter and moved north. Once she realized that her fuming about Seattle’s detriments was actually funny, Semple set to work.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told through letters, emails, invoices and even police reports. Semple decided to try this approach after a few failed attempts to write from Bernadette’s agoraphobic, slightly misanthropic view.

“I had this big ‘aha’ moment: This’ll be an epistolary novel, which is one of the most traditional, old-fashioned forms of writing,” Semple says. “Dangerous Liaisons influenced this book, although this book is about really modern issues.”

Once that decision was made, Semple set the simple goal of writing one of the great epistolary novels.

“It is a lot of pressure,” she says. “I would sit down and think, oh, shit, now I have to write a TED talk! Almost every day felt like, oh my gosh, are you kidding me, now I have to do this?”

The format works, beautifully. Jaunty, buzzword-laden emails from a private school fundraiser are interspersed with a psychiatrist’s transcript of Bernadette’s intervention. Every character is funny, flawed and achingly real.

Jonathan Franzen himself has written that he “tore through this book with heedless pleasure,” a fact that Semple is still trying to process like the Franzen fangirl she is.

“That was like someone reached out of another dimension into my life,” she says of Franzen’s high praise. “He’s the one that I feel like kind of gave me permission to be the writer I am. The Corrections was crazy and original. I kept it next to me while writing Bernadette. It was a reminder that this can be done.

“I sent him the manuscript with a note saying thank you for being the writer you are, and then he somehow plucked it off the pile. . . . Getting an email from Jonathan Franzen was really a high point of my career.”

That Franzen guy is definitely on to something. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a summer must-read in which Semple takes you to the ends of the earth—literally. You will love being along for every minute of this completely original and hilarious ride.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 August #1
From Semple (This One Is Mine, 2008), a cleverly constructed Internet-age domestic comedy about a wife/mother/genius architect who goes a little nuts from living in that cesspool of perfection and bad weather called Seattle. Bernadette left Los Angeles years earlier after a professional disaster: After she won a MacArthur grant for building a house using only materials that originated within 20 miles of the site, vengeful neighbors had the house destroyed. Now she lives in Seattle with her equally genius husband, Elgie, who is working on a big project in artificial intelligence at Microsoft, and their genius eighth-grade daughter, Bee, whose devotion to her mother is one of the novel's least credible plot points. Bernadette may be brilliant and funny, but she is also mean-spirited and self-absorbed, with a definite case of entitlement that the author too frequently seems to share. She certainly hates everything about Seattle, especially the other mothers at Bee's crunchy-granola private school. Because she hates to leave her house, a crumbling ruin she's never bothered to renovate, she has hired a personal assistant in India to run her life via the Internet. After her vendetta against one of her Seattle mommy-enemies goes terribly awry, Elgie begins to wonder if she is having a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, Bernadette decides she wants to get out of a planned family trip to Antarctica. Days before the trip, in the middle of an intervention Elgie has plotted with his adoring administrative assistant, Bernadette disappears. To makes sense of the disappearance, Bee creates a book by collating the Internet postings, public records and private emails she has received from an anonymous source. Although there are wonderful scenes of deadpan absurdity--Semple wrote for Arrested Development--Seattle, already the butt of so much humor lately, seems an awfully easy mark. The tone is sharply witty if slightly condescending, but ultimately Semple goes for the heartstrings. A fun beach read for urban sophisticates or those who think they are. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 March #2

To her Microsoft husband and the other private-school moms in Seattle, Bernadette Fox is a holy terror; to her 15-year-old, Bee, she's her beloved mom. But when Bee demands the trip to Antarctica she was promised for delivering a slam-dunk report card, the increasingly agoraphobic Bernadette disappears. Huge in-house excitement; rights sold to nine countries.

[Page 91]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 July #1

What does a genius architect do when the neighbor with whom she's been feuding destroys her greatest work of art? In Semple's second novel (after This One is Mine) she moves from the scene of the crime (Los Angeles) to a city where she's less likely to get into trouble (Seattle). Bernadette, the genius architect, is married to Elgin, also a genius, who has taken a job at Microsoft. Unfortunately, Bernadette manages to get involved in some serious neighbor drama in her new city--even though she barely leaves her house. Owing to the madness in LA, Bernadette has lost her creative drive, which has been replaced with an insanity that affects everyone around her, including her teenaged daughter, Bee. Eventually, Bernadette flees Seattle with the help of an unlikely ally. Then it is up to the ones who love her the most to answer the question the title poses. VERDICT Interestingly written in the form of emails, memos, and articles with very little narrative prose, this fun read is filled with quirky characters and eccentric circumstances. With elements similar to an Anne Tyler novel or a Wes Anderson film, this is sure to be a hit with readers who appreciate offbeat characters and an original story. [See Prepub Alert, 2/12/12.]--Karen Core, Detroit P.L.

[Page 78]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 May #2

In her second novel (after This One Is Mine), Semple pieces together a modern-day comic caper full of heart and ingenuity. Eighth-grader Bee is the daughter of Microsoft genius Elgin Branch and Bernadette Fox, a once-famous architect who has become a recluse in her Seattle home. Bee has a simple request: a family cruise to Antarctica as a reward for her good grades. Her parents acquiesce, but not without trepidation. Bernadette's social anxiety has become so overwhelming that she's employed a personal assistant from Delhi Virtual Assistants Intl. (who makes "./ USD/hr.") for tasks as simple as making dinner reservations. How will she survive three weeks on a boat with other live human beings? Maybe she won't; a day before the trip, Bernadette disappears, and Bee gathers her mother's invoices, e-mail correspondence, and emergency room bills in the hopes of finding clues as to where she went.The result is a compelling composite of a woman's life--and the way she's viewed by the many people who share it. As expected from a writer who has written episodes of Arrested Development, the nuances of mundane interactions are brilliantly captured, and the overarching mystery deepens with each page, until the thoroughly satisfying dnouement. Agent: Anna Stein, Aitken Alexander. (Aug.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC