Thursday, August 09, 2018

15. Where'd you Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

It is rare for me to read a contemporary trade paperback but this one was strongly recommended by my aunt (and previously by her daughter-in-law).  I like books that get passed around the family and my aunt has very good taste, plus it looked very easy to consume, so I took it on.

It is about an eccentric family in bourgeois Seattle and in particular the mother, a once-powerful architect in LA now sort of hiding in the world of schools, neighbourly conflicts and parenting.  The book is structured as a series of letters, diary excerpts and other actual textual material (I am sure there is some term for this).  It is quite cleverly done and very fun to read especially in the early part of the book which deals with school and parental politics at the elite but progressive private school the daughter attends as well as conflicts about overgrown blackberry bushes invading the neighbour's property.  These are truly contemporary issues for upper middle-class urban elite white people in the 21st century and it also told with a rye and amusing distance that I found very entertaining.

The main drive of the narrative is that the mom is slowly getting unhinged and behaving more and more erraticly.  Her extreme behaviours and conflicts with other parents (plus a misunderstandings and things getting blown out of proportions due to the husband and wife not communicating) get to the point that the father decides on an intervention and possibly to have the wife committed.  She disappears.  The storyline drives away from the petty squabbles into the wife's past and into her and her daughter's relationship.  It ends up being very literary fiction. In this case, it could have been satisfying (and I did like the independence of the daughter and mother from society's norms and the way in which the dad character is shown to be totally lame), however a lot of the plot tension orbits entirely around a missed letter, which weakened it all for me.  The idiosnyncracies of the mother which reach alarming levels in the first half, are ultimately deflated as her disappearance all gets washed away in a big misunderstanding. 


Anonymous said...

Epistolary novel.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Ah thank you! That will save me many words in the future if I can remember it. :)

(Now that I have looked it up, for my own future reference, epistolary means a novel written as a series of documents.)