Here in the Midwest, summer is almost over — school is in session and the leaves are just starting to turn. September is a glorious month, usually full of warm sunny days and cool nights. Book clubs are meeting and debating their reading lists, 2014 calendars are hitting our shelves, and children are writing book reports (“I need to read a memoir by Friday!”). So maybe this isn’t the best time to talk about summer reading (a.k.a. “beach reading”). I’ve never quite understood why I’d want to read differently in the summer than I would any other time of year — what’s the difference between reading on a lounge chair on the porch and reading on a couch in front of a fire? But it seems that most people want to read lighter books in the summer. Customers circle our fiction table, saying they want something “light . . . not depressing . . .funny . . . but not trashy.” There simply aren’t too many good books that fit that description.
Well, I have just had the pleasure of reading a book that is clever and amusing, with only a touch of sadness. Even though it’s September, it’s not too late for some summer reading. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? would be just as addictive and wickedly funny on a cold rainy day as it was on the August day when I reluctantly read the last page. Maybe that would be even more appropriate, since the book is set in the Pacific Northwest.
Bernadette Fox is a once-famous architect and a reluctant transplant to Seattle. She’s the wife of a brilliant Microsoft executive and the mother of a brilliant 15-year-old daughter, Bee– and so antisocial that she hires a virtual assistant from India to take care of almost all her personal business. She hates the other mothers at Bee’s politically correct private school, calling them “gnats”:
Because they’re annoying, but not so annoying that you actually want to spend valuable energy on them.
When Bernadette disappears, just before a family trip to Antarctica, it’s up to Bee to track her down. Exactly how she does that is told in a series of emails, letters, blog posts, notes, and interview transcripts — involving the police, various Microsoft employees, school administrators, neighbors, and cruise line officials. The book has just the right amount of dark humor — it’s satire with the edges sanded down. Author Maria Semple is a TV writer (Arrested Development and Mad About You), and that comes through in her sharp dialogue and surprising plot twists.
One more thing . . . Bernadette is not the most likable of characters. But she is certainly an interesting one, and isn’t that more important in a novel? That’s a subject for another post.