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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: a Novel

            Life as a genius isn’t easy all of the time. Geniuses have problems too. Just look at Bee, a fifteen-year-old student at a private school in Seattle. When she aces her report card yet again, Bee reminds her parents that they promised her a family vacation in Antarctica. They agree, begin planning the trip, and then the hilarity starts.

            Bee’s parents also aren’t average. Her father, Elgin Branch, is a star at Microsoft; her mother Bernadette is a once famous Los Angeles architect who suffered a major professional defeat, left the industry, and is now a virtual recluse. After agreeing to the trip, Bernadette realizes that she can’t be among the other tourists for the three-week timespan. She begins to plan ways to opt out of it, sending Bee and Elgin by themselves. Meanwhile, other incidents occur, escalating into major crises. The removal of vines from the Branch’s property results in a mudslide into their neighbor’s yard; this neighbor happens to be the mother of one of Bee’s classmates. Then another class mother who also is employed by Microsoft receives a transfer, becoming Elgin’s administrative assistant. Elgin decides that Bernadette is undergoing a psychotic episode and needs an intervention and a sojourn at the local mental health facility. Bernadette escapes from the intervention and seems to have fallen off of the face of the earth. Bee and Elgin set off in search of her.

            Author Maria Semple, a novelist and television writer for such shows as Arrested Development and Mad about You, presents a satirical, uproarious story told completely through correspondence – personal and business letters, emails, and documents. No group – Seattle residents, Microsoft employees, helicopter parents, and more --  escapes her sarcastic wit. But it’s all in good fun.

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