I picked up the audiobook of Where’d You Go, Bernadette from the library because I thought it has been nominated for an Audie Award. (It was not, I was thinking of Beautiful Ruins).
I am very mixed on the book. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a satire about the problems up the top 1% in Seattle. The problem is that it fails as satire.
As a story it isn’t bad. But the attempt at satire pushed the characters into a place where they were unlikable for much of the book. Bernadette is an architect, former winner of a MacArthur Genius Grant, wife and mother of Bee. Elgin, her husband, is a genius in his own right. Microsoft bought out his company 20 years ago and he is now the head of a big robotics research project and fully invested in the Seattle lifestyle.
I was most interested in Bernadette when the book was giving back story on Bernadette. She was an architect that specialized in using local materials or reusing discarded materials. But once she moved to Seattle, and went through a number of miscarriages, she became a recluse. From that point it wasn’t that she was a bad character, just that she wasn’t nearly as interesting.
Elgin was mostly a likable character and while he was distant because he was a workaholic and genius in his own right, he still clearly loved his wife and Bee. There was a section where he was pretty unlikeable and that did not seem to match the rest of the book.
And then there is Bee. She is supposed to be in 8th grade and also a genius. But she reads much younger most of the time. And maybe that is intentional because she is so dependent on Bernadette and because she was so sick for the first several years of her life. But as a whole, Bee is often whiney and immature.
The ‘evil’ characters are completely unlikeable, and without any real motivation for their behavior for most of the book. And then there sudden change which doesn’t really make sense and the biggest anti-hero becomes a hero.
The format of the book is mostly emails, faxes and reports that are stitched together to tell the story. That is fine, but it is not consistent So the story moves in and out of the emails and faxes frequently and I would have been an effective tool if the author had just stuck with it.
The author, Maria Semple, is a TV writer for Arrested Development and Mad About You and other TV shows. This is her second novel. I think she has talent, but she hasn’t quite made the transition from TV to novel. I think future books will have potential. But I have a hard time recommending this one.