Wednesday, March 13, 2013

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple: Read This If

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple has been popping up everywhere I look for the past several months. When I read a little about the author and discovered that she used to write for Arrested Development (and Mad About You and Ellen), well, I knew I had to read this immediately.

This book is hilarious. And slightly sad, and definitely heartfelt, and, well, real, despite the absurdities and caricature nature of the characters. I'm no McArthur genius, but I could definitely relate to Bernadette's antisocial tendencies (minus giving all my banking info to a virtual assistant) and sarcasm and sense of failure. Her daughter Bee's adorableness shines through the pages as well. In a family of quirky smartypants (her dad Elgin is a Microsoft guru), she's probably the most down-to-earth and adult character in the book, though her dad has many words of wisdom, such as:
It's for survival. You need to be prepared for novel experiences because often they signal danger. If you live in a jungle full of fragrant flowers, you have to stop being so overwhelmed by the lovely smell because otherwise you couldn't smell a predator. That's why your brain is considered a discounting mechanism. It's literally a matter of survival. 
When your eyes are softly focused on the horizon for sustained periods, your brain releases endorphins. It's the same as a runner's high. These days, we all spend our lives staring at screens twelve inches in front of us. It's a nice change.  
Bernadette had a bit of a breakdown after a scoundrel neighbor destroyed one of her greatest accomplishments. That's why she's a little loony seizing on all the bad and seeing obstacles where there really are none. She moved her family (before Bee was born) to Seattle to escape her failure, in a sense, but she continuously finds reasons to distance and disassociate herself with anyone around her:
People are born here, they grow up here, they go to the University of Washington, they work here, they die here. Nobody has any desire to leave. You ask them, "What is it again that you love so much about Seattle?" and they answer, "We have everything. The mountains and the water." This is their explanation, mountains and water.
She is so snobby it's painful, but in a funny, clueless way, not in a snide, mean way. She feels superior because she is superior, but no one knows she's a genius because of her refusal to engage with anyone. She calls all the moms from her daughters school 'gnats' because they are constantly pestering her to get involved in school community stuff. Because she's a mom and that's what moms do. She's Chandler, Monica and Phoebe all wrapped into one, with a super high IQ on top, or, bottom, really, since it might be hard to find that bit.

Anyway, you should totally read this if:
  • You found Arrested Development hilarious (though this isn't nearly as absurd as many of the plotlines in AD). 
  • You have a child in school and have sometimes found dealing with other parents...challenging. 
  • You've ever felt like a failure but seen the absurdity of identifying with it.
  • You're looking for a quick, funny read with a lot of substance. 
  • You appreciate character development - this is definitely character driven. 
Don't read this if: 
  • You are humorless and many would describe you as "no fun."
  • You truly believe yourself to be faultless parent of the year. You will just find this book offensive.
  • You're looking for a dark and gloomy read.
  • You're totally clueless. But then, if you were totally clueless, you'd probably lack the self awareness to know so. 
  • You hate Antarctica. And you can't stand penguins.
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