I have finished the 65th book for the book challenge. It was Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple.
This novel is about a nuclear family that consists of Elgin Branch, a manager at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington; his daughter Balakrishna Branch, also known as Bee, a student at the Galer Street School; and his wife, Bernadette Fox, the award-winning architect who built a famous home in Los Angeles twenty years ago and then dropped out of sight.
Elgin, Bernadette, and Bee have been living in Seattle. Bee attends school and Bernadette is a recluse. She has all her errands done through a virtual assistant, Manjula, who is supposed to be in India. She often locks herself away in the Air Stream trailer on their property. They live in a former home for wayward girls that is falling down. The plan was originally to renovate it, but Bernadette has never gotten around to it. Maybe it is because she suffered several miscarriages after she arrived in Seattle and then when Bee was born, she was so sick for so long with a heart condition. Whatever the reasons, the home has fallen into disrepair.
Bernadette takes Bee to school every morning and picks her up each afternoon but has no interaction with any of the other mothers, whom she refers to as “gnats.” One day she has a confrontation with Audrey Griffin, her neighbor and another mother, who claims that Bernadette ran over her foot and send Bernadette the hospital bill for her injured foot. This causes a flurry of emails between Audrey and Soo-Lin, another mother, and between Audrey and the school. (These emails all comprise part of a book that Bee is writing about her mother.)
Bee wants desperately to go to Antarctica. She talks her parents into going on a cruise to the White Continent, and Bernadette gets Manjula started on planning all the things they need for their three-week trip during the Christmas holiday. Bee has also applied to Choate to go to boarding school for the following year. Choate is her mother’s alma mater. She is looking forward to attending boarding school.
The Galer Street School is trying to get wealthy parents to send their children to the school and Audrey is holding an open-house, information party at her home. She is getting the home ready and is upset with Bernadette’s blackberry vines that keep creeping onto her property. She sneaks onto Bernadette’s property with her contractor and then confronts Bernadette. Bernadette agrees to let the contractor rip up her blackberry vines for the party. In the middle of Audrey’s party, because it has been raining steadily and the blackberry vines were the only things holding down Bernadette’s side of the hill, a mud slide occurs and mud fills Audrey’s home and ruins her home and of course the party. Audrey must move to a hotel.
Soo-Lin becomes the administrative assistant to Elgin Branch. She is attracted to him. Her children also attend Galer Street School and she is close to Audrey. Audrey, who is staying at a hotel, tries to move in with Soo-Lin but is thwarted. Audrey is arrested at the hotel when her son is cited for making noise and having drugs in his room. They move to Utah and put their son in a drug treatment program.
Bernadette is beginning to get cold feet about going to Antarctica. She has purchased most of the things they need but her plan is to get a strong medicine for seasickness through the Drake Passage. When that fails, she decides to have her wisdom teeth pulled the day before they are scheduled to leave so she will not be able to go. But the day that the surgery is scheduled, Elgin arranges a mental health intervention. He is planning on having Bernadette committed to a mental institution because she has become so unstable. In the middle of the intervention, Bernadette goes to the bathroom. Audrey comes to the bathroom window and helps Bernadette to escape. Bernadette disappears.
No one can find Bernadette. She seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. Elgin and Bee do not go on their trip. Bee decides to go to Choate early. She goes in January, but after three weeks, the school says she is not adjusting well and asks that Elgin come to get her. She has received a package of information and claims to be writing a book. Elgin decides to take Bee on the trip to Antarctica. They have discovered that Bernadette actually went on the trip to Antarctica but that she disappeared on the trip and has not been seen.
They are retracing Bernadette’s path. Bee is carefully looking at her credit card receipts and where she stopped. Everyone thinks she fell overboard because she did not sign out. But at Palmer Station where the scientists live, Bee realizes that it would have been easy for her mother to get off the ship without signing out. She does the same and finds Bernadette living at Palmer Station, where she is planning on designing a station and then coming home. Bernadette has been found. It was she who arranged for Bee to have the emails that were sent to her at Choate.
Now that Bernadette has been found, Bee is happy. Bernadette will be happy to be an architect again and will come home when she has completed her project. Bee returns to Galer Street School. Elgin and Bee will look for another house where they can live. Elgin will provide for Soo-Lin’s unborn child, for whom he is responsible, but he and Bee and Bernadette will begin again in another house.
This was an interesting concept for a book. This was the book that Bee wrote about her mother’s disappearance and the events that surrounded her disappearance, based on the emails and notes and her own observations. So the book is a series of emails, interspersed with Bee’s narrations. The final entry is Bernadette’s letter to Bee explaining how she came to be at Palmer Station and what she was planning to do. It ties the whole thing up. It was a fun book to read. Bee adores her mother, quirky as she is. Bernadette is agoraphobic, but she also despises the women who are the pretentious mothers at the Galer Street School and you understand why. Soo-Lin and her Victims Against Victimhood are quite tedious. Audrey, until she has her epiphany, is truly obnoxious. You really admire Bernadette and her devotion to her daughter. I absolutely enjoyed this book.