Monday, December 17, 2012

Semple Sale

Every so often, I read a work of fiction or creative nonfiction that’s memorably uplifting enough to help lure my concentration away from reports of mind-blowing tragedy. I recently wrote a short review of Maria Semple’s dazzling Where’d You Go, Bernadette, most of it is pasted below, and I recommend the book to anyone who is attracted to intelligently funny writing.

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.   


  1. I was just telling my husband that I needed some new book recommendations. Great review!

  2. Thanks for the rec! I can't wait to check out this book...sounds like we think along the same lines.

  3. Thanks for the recommendation. Looks intriguing!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I usually like mysteries...but character-driven is often fun, too.
    ♡ Jill

  5. I recommend Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. It is a novel based on the real life of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. (I greatly prefer the Canadian terminology, so I will correct that last sentence to say "the first member of the First Families.") It takes place in the late 1600s. He was a member of the Wampanoag tribe in Cape Cod/Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Having spent some time in that area, I am very familiar with the Wampanoags, who still live there. Another theme concerns a young Caucasian woman who is denied an education at Harvard because she is a female. This is an amazing book about people trying to find their path in a racist and sexist society. I think it will capture the imagination and heart of all who read it.

  6. Sounds cool!! I'll have to check it out!

  7. Perfect timing! I've been on the lookout for a new read :)

  8. Popped in from SITS...this sounds really good! As a former reporter as well, I always love good books!