Where’d You Go, Bernadette
By Maria Semple
Little, Brown and Company (336 pp.)
What’s it like to be all grown up and frighteningly gifted? In her sophomore novel, former TV comedy writer Maria Semple (Arrested Development, Ellen, Mad About You) offers a glimpse into great genius or, more tellingly, what can become of those who have it and let it go to waste.
Bernadette Fox, a creatively stymied MacArthur grant-winning architect with a Marie Antoinette complex, has moved from Los Angeles to Seattle with her Microsoft-hotshot husband and their destined-for-hotshothood teenage daughter – suffice it to say the relocation hasn’t gone very well. It’s only a matter of time before Bernadette becomes grievously turned off by the “gnats” (her Seattle neighbors) in her midst and frustrated with her own frustrations, culminating in her impulsive climb out of her home’s bathroom window (with the aid of her chief gnat-nemesis) and subsequent international vanishing act.
The daughter, Bee, serves as the rivetingly fast-paced novel’s narrator as she tries to make sense of her mother’s geographical and personal journey. The rest of the narrative is a “So Where the Hell Is She?” spin on the “Who Dunnit?” motif, filled with e-mails and other forms of newsy correspondence that spot-on capture the unique brand of self-righteously idle pettiness that can all too frequently pervade hyper-privileged American cities and suburbs:
I don’t know who I’m more furious at, Bernadette Fox or Gwen Goodyear, for calling me out in the Friday Folder . . . I created the Diversity Council. I invented Donuts for Dad.
Plot- and character-driven fiction that’s as smart, witty, and imaginative as great contemporary literature should be.