Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Semple)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Maria Semple, 2012
Little, Brown & Company
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 978
0316204262


Summary
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—June, 1964
Where—Santa Monica, California, USA
Education—B.A., Barnard College
Currently—lives in Seattle, Washington


Maria Keogh Semple is an American novelist and screenwriter. She is the author of This One is Mine. Her television credits include Beverly Hills, 90210, Mad About You, Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan and Ellen.

Early Life
Semple was born in Santa Monica, California. Her family moved to Spain soon after she was born. There her father, the screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. wrote the pilot for the television series Batman. The family moved to Los Angeles and then to Aspen, Colorado. Semple attended boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall, then received a BA in English from Barnard College in 1986.

Career
Her first screenwriting job was in 1992, for the television show Beverly Hills, 90210. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy, Outstanding Television Series, in 1997 for Mad About You. In 2006 and 2007, she was nominated for a Writer's Guild of America award, for Arrested Development. This One is Mine was a finalist for the 2010 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award. She appeared in the 2004 David O. Russell film I Heart Huckabees. She is active in the Seattle literary community, a founding member of Seattle 7 Writers. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. She has also taught fiction writing at the Richard Hugo House.

Novels

Semple's novels are This One is Mine (2008) and Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2012), both published by Little, Brown and Company. This One is Mine is about a woman who has it all, a loving family and wealth, however her unhappiness leads her to make dangerous decisions in the pursuit of "more". Similarly, Where'd You Go, Bernadette is about a mother and wife who is suffering from a career loss in a city that deprives her. A string of events lead to her disappearance. The book is a collection of of clues that can lead to Bernadette.

Personal Life
Semple is in a relationship with George Meyer and has one daughter with him, Poppy. They reside in Seattle. In 2007, a newly discovered species of moss frogs from Sri Lanka was named Philautus poppiae after their daughter, a tribute to Meyer's and Semple's dedication to the Global Amphibian Assessment. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
The novel lays to Ms. Semple's strengths as someone who can practice ventriloquism in many voices, skip over the mundane and utterly refute the notion that mixed-media fiction is bloggy, slack or lazy. The tightly constructed Where'd You Go, Bernadette is written in many formats—e-mails, letters, F.B.I. documents, correspondence with a psychiatrist and even an emergency-room bill for a run-in between Bernadette and Audrey. Yet these pieces are strung together so wittily that Ms. Semple's storytelling is always front and center, in sharp focus. You could stop and pay attention to how apt each new format is, how rarely she repeats herself and how imaginatively she unveils every bit of information. But you would have to stop laughing first.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


The assignment: Craft a novel from the literary equivalent of found objects. Consider the narrative possibilities contained not just in letters and e-mails, but in school report cards, emergency room bills and police reports filed by night managers at Westin Hotels. The resultant work must have a compelling plot, a strong sense of place and fully realized characters. Make it warm, dark, sad, funny—and a little bit screwball. Could we ask for a more delightful response to that assignment than Maria Semple's second novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette.... This is an inventive and very funny novel that gets bonus points for transcending form.
Susan Coll - Washington Post


If Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl represented the dark heart of the summer literature, Maria Semple's...Bernadette embodies the sunnier, funnier side.... Semple has a flair for satire and screwball jinks, and she has produced a great gift to avid readers: a book that you never want to finish reading.
Connie Ogle - The Miami Herald


Stands to become a cult favorite.... Like Jane Austen-who set the gold standard for social satire-Semple's most ridiculous characters are convinced that they're the normal ones, and it's wonderful fun to watch as they behave abominably, believing themselves blameless.... Semple has a keen ear for the nuances of different voices, and it's a joy to get to know these people.... Bernadette is...marvelous. Her rants read like the best comedy routines.... It's the rare book that actually deserves the term "laugh-out-loud funny," but I found myself reading passages from almost every page to anyone who would listen, even as I could barely articulate the words through my own laughter.
Malena Watrous - San Francisco Chronicle


Semple paints each character with depth and tenderness while keeping the tone upbeat; no easy feat for a novel about a mother who pulls a disappearing act.
Korina Lopez - USA Today


You don't have to know Seattle to get Maria Semple's broadly satirical novel.... Underlying the nontraditional narrative are insights into the cost of thwarted creativity and the power of mother-daughter bonds, although a reader may be having too much fun to notice.
O, The Oprah Magazine


Find your patron saint of fed-up-ed-ness in our fave summer read, Where'd You Go, Bernadette.... You'll laugh your pants off, and love the takeaway-that a life gone off the rails can propel you in a bright new direction.
Redbook


In her second novel...Semple pieces together a modern-day comic caper full of heart and ingenuity.... 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 denouement.
Publishers Weekly


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 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 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.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told from the point of view of a daughter trying to find her missing mother. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from Bee’s perspective? What light does it shed on the bond between Bernadette and Bee?

2. What are your thoughts on Bernadette’s character? Has she become unhinged or has she always been a little crazy? What, if anything, do you think sent her over the edge? Have you ever had a moment in your own life that utterly changed you, or made you call into question your own sanity?

3. When Bernadette relocates from Los Angeles to Seattle, she must cope with being a transplant in a new city. Have you ever moved, or even stayed put but switched jobs, and had to adjust to an entirely different culture? What was it like?

4. The idea of going to Antarctica becomes too much for an already frazzled Bernadette to bear, but the trip itself, surprisingly, turns out to be exactly what she needs to get back on track. How do other characters in the novel experience their own breakthroughs? Which character is most transformed?

5. How are Audrey Griffin and Bernadette Fox more alike than they realize?

6. Bernadette often behaves as if she is an outsider. Do you think she is? If so, do you think her feelings of being an outsider are self-imposed, or is she truly different from the other members of her community? Do you ever feel like an outsider?

7. The book has a very playful structure. Do you think it works? Why do you think the author chose it rather than a more straightforward, traditional structure? Think about other books with unusual structures and how their formats influenced your reading experience.

8. What do you think of Bernadette and Elgie’s marriage? Is it dysfunctional?  Is there real love there? How has their marriage changed over time? Think about romantic relationships you’ve been in that have evolved, positively or negatively, and why.

9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is, at its core, a story about a woman who disappears, both literally and figuratively. Were you able to relate to the book? How and why? Do you feel Bernadette’s disappearance was unique, or do all women, in a sense, disappear into motherhood and marriage?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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