Novel Comments

2 Dec

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012), a Maria Semple novel, deserves the high critical praise it has been given for its laugh-out-loud humor and its masterful interweaving of first person narrative with letters, e-mails, written documents, and even an ER bill. By having the narrator, Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, use these various materials written from and to a variety of characters, Ms. Semple shows how to enact what seemed to me to be the unifying message of the story: It is best to use all the resources at hand to understand, create, and communicate.

The title character, Bernadette, a master architect, was able to show what wonderful creations can be made from using concrete materials, by the way which often did include poured concrete. But all collapsed, or was razed, because she disregarded human resources. Except for her daughter and husband, Bernadette could only try to connect with those at a distance. She wrote her most personally revealing missives to a former architect mentor, who admittedly barely knew her personally and lived elsewhere, and to a virtual assistant in India, who turned out to be an internet scam run by the Russian Mafia. She could only deal with the culture and people where she lived, Seattle, through very funny, and often accurate, satire and withdrawal. Underneath, however, was a very loving, as well as brilliant, woman.

The book is a rambunctious account of Bernadette’s journey toward being able to use all of her available resources, material and human. It is well worth the time spent reading it for its many good laughs and inspiration.

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