05 March 2013


Bernadette is an unhappy stay-at-home mom in Seattle whose husband is a big shot at Microsoft. Facing the prospect of a trip to Antarctica with which she had bribed her daughter, Bee, to get better grades, Bernadette tries to find a way out of it while getting involved in a major PTA skirmish and feeling trapped in rainy, foggy Washington. If only she could just... vanish...

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is formatted as a collection of documents related to Bernadette (emails, transcripts of phone calls, official school news) and compiled by her daughter Bee. I loved this epistolary mashup but am curious to see how it will be transferred in the forthcoming adaptation. With regard to the plot, this book is like "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang": Realistic with dashes of whimsy until it drives into the ocean and enters an absurd world.

I say that with love, mostly. I tore through this book; I found it funny and playful with a really dark, juicy underside. The resolution satisfied me -- at first, but the further I got away from it I began to take it apart in my head. This surprised me, because despite the outward quirks of Bernadette, I don't think she's that much of an outlier, until the end until she makes a decision to [redacted for spoilers] which doesn't seem plausible. I didn't hate the ending, but am still tempted to write my own that conforms more to what I think Bernadette wanted.

(I know -- lately, I've apparently joined the Plausibility Police when I read fiction. What do I know about the decision she made?! Who made me a police officer? But if I can't accept that, that's still a problem.)

One of the early revelations about Bernadette is related to her old career, which she effectively left behind in Los Angeles when she moved and never reassumed. To me, this was an interesting take on what one might call the "mommy wars" or "opt-out" literature; part of Bernadette's frustration with the petty PTA is that she just seems bored and underutilized in her own life. Against her we can place the counterpart voice of a female admin who works with Elgin and sends her child to school with Bee, who at times seems almost like the villain of this piece, but is no happier in her own juggle of professional and familial responsibilities. It was this Bernadette I identified with, not the risk-taker of the final chapters.

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