Where'd You Go, Bernadette: funny/dark novel about the disintegration of a Microsoft family

Maria Semple wrote a tremendously entertaining work of social satire combined with a mystery that kept me wondering what would happen next right up to the end.

My wife Carla has been reading some excellent books in her book salon. One of them was Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which I reviewed here. More recently, she handed me her copy of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple, and told me I was going to love it, and she was right! It's a tremendously entertaining work of social satire combined with a mystery that kept me wondering what would happen next right up to the end.

Bernadette Fox lives with her husband, Elgie, in Seattle. Twenty years ago, Elgie and Bernadette lived in Los Angeles. Elgie had been an animator and Bernadette had been an up-and-coming architect. But then two things happened: Elgie sold his company to Microsoft, and Bernadette suffered a terrible event. Now they live in a decrepit old house (that used to be a home for wayward girls) on a hill in Seattle with their daughter Bee, who attends Galer Street, an expensive private school filled with the kids of Microsoft's top managers.

Bernadette doesn't like the other Galer Street parents. In fact, she doesn't like anyone besides Bee and Manjula, her 75-cents-an-hour virtual assistant from India who performs all manner of tasks for the agoraphobic and antisocial Bernadette. In turn, the other parents despise Bernadette for her aloofness and refusal to volunteer at Bee's school. And Elgie offers little support: he's too busy heading a project that he thinks will change the world, and the fact that many other people think so (he gave the 4th most watched TED Talk in history about his creation, called Samantha 2), allows him to justify his 80-hour workweeks.

Author Maria Semple tells the story through email messages between school parents, emails from Bernadette to her assistant Manjula, psychiatric evaluations, and other Internet communications, interspersed with notes from Bee. There's a reason the story is presented this way, which readers discover near the end of the book. We also learn the terrible secret of what happened to Bernadette in Los Angeles, and why she suddenly disappeared the day before she was supposed to go on a vacation with Elgie and Bee to Antarctica.

One of my favorite things about Where'd You Go, Bernadette, besides the entertaining characters and takedown of private-school/TED/Microsoft culture, was the sheer unpredictability of the story. I had no idea what I was in store from one scene to the next. But everything tied together, and as a stickler for satisfying endings, Where'd You Go, Bernadette nailed it.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Published 11:33 am Mon, Apr 8, 2013

About the Author

Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the founding editor-in-chief of MAKE. He is editor-in-chief of Cool Tools and co-founder of Wink Books. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects


14 Responses to “Where'd You Go, Bernadette: funny/dark novel about the disintegration of a Microsoft family”

  1. toyg says:

    I believe this book was adapted for BBC Radio (I must have listened through an episode, by pure chance), so there is probably an audiobook out there.

  2. Waine Vines says:

    Layla. if you think Victor`s storry is astonishing, last saturday I bought a great Jaguar XJ since I been earnin $6044 this-past/five weeks and a little over $10 thousand this past-munth. without a question it is my favourite-work Ive ever done. I started this three months/ago and almost immediately made minimum $80, per/hr. I use the details here……….. ZOO80.ℂom

  3. I loved this book. Glad to see it getting some props.

  4. Sunshine Fox says:

    thanks for the almost spoiler at the end of your review. now i feel like i don’t need to read it. which is a shame because up till point where you started in about why its written in all email, I really wanted to.

    • Mark_Frauenfelder says:

      Eh?

      • Sunshine Fox says:

        “Author Maria Semple tells the story through email messages between school parents, emails from Bernadette to her assistant Manjula, psychiatric evaluations, and other Internet communications, interspersed with notes from Bee. There’s a reason the story is presented this way, which readers discover near the end of the book. We also learn the terrible secret of what happened to Bernadette in Los Angeles, and why she suddenly disappeared the day before she was supposed to go on a vacation with Elgie and Bee to Antarctica.”

    • Don Hosek says:

      It’s not written entirely as e-mails, it’s presented as a series of artifacts many of which are e-mails. Mark doesn’t spoil anything in his review other than indicating that the form of the novel does come into play in the latter part of the book. Trust me, read the book, you won’t be disappointed.

  5. When I finished this book I was wondering why it was getting so little publicity. It’s a total gem. Thanks for writing about it!

  6. Сергей Глуханюк says:

    http://v-garage.com.ua/

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