If Gillian Flynns Gone Girl represented the dark heart of the summer literature, Maria Semples breezy Whered You Go, Bernadette embodies the sunnier, funnier side.
A satiric take on all things Seattle Microsoft, ambitious private-school parents, crunchy-granola types, politically correct self-helpers who join groups like Victims Against Victimhood, wild blackberries that ravage the hillsides untamed, the rain, oh God, the rain the novel is scathing and funny, yet possesses a surprising big-hearted generosity toward family dynamics, forgiveness and the burden of genius. It is an absolute delight, and I worry for the reader who isnt thoroughly enchanted.
A patchwork epistolary novel that includes emails and official documents, Whered You Go, Bernadette is the narrative of one Bee Balakrishna Fox (that Balakrishna was a mistake, for the record). Bee is an eighth grader who lives with her Microsoft superhero dad, Elgin, and her increasingly manic mom, Bernadette, who a formerly famous architect.
Once a MacArthur genius grant winner, Bernadette is slowly succumbing to crushing agoraphobia and maybe other psychological ailments. She loathes the other mothers at Bees social-climbing school (gnats because theyre annoying but not so annoying that you actually want to spend valuable energy on them). She has let their home, a cavernous, crumbling former school for girls, slide further into ruin.
Any subject can sidetrack her into a rant, from the weather (Lets play a game. Ill say a word, and you say the first word that pops into your head. Ready? Me: Seattle. You: Rain ) to why she fears Canadians (To Canadians, everyone is equal. Joni Mitchell is interchangeable with a secretary at open-mic night. Frank Gehry is no greater than a hack pumping out McMansions on AutoCAD. John Candy is no funnier than Uncle Lou when he gets a couple of beers in him. The thing Canadians dont understand is that some people are extraordinary and should be treated accordingly.)
A planned family trip to Antarctica sets off a series of increasingly insane events that prompt Bernadette to vanish, and Bee is determined to find her mother even if she has to travel to the edge of the known universe to do it.
Semple, a former TV writer whos also author of the novel This One is Mine, has a flair for satire and screwball hijinks, and she has produced a great gift to avid readers: a book that you never want to finish reading. Take her up on this offer, and you will not be disappointed.
Connie Ogle is The Miami Heralds book editor.