This book is a funny, satirical novel that lampoons Seattle, helicopter moms, Microsoft, and a score of other modern-day targets. Written in a variety of formats – e-mail, faxes, documents, bills, letters - it portrays the complexity of modern communication (and miscommunication). But while the novel is often laugh-out-loud funny, it is still a book with a heart.
Bernadette is a complex heroine: a non-practicing architect, a past winner of the Macarthur genius grant, and a serious agoraphobic. She is married to Elgin, a top Microsoft inventor and the star of the “fourth most viewed TED Talk.” She is the mother of a 15-year old daughter, Bee, a bright prodigy at her middle-tier, eco-friendly, progressive private school. To say that Bernadette is unorthodox is more than an understatement. She is so reluctant to leave her home, she hires a “virtual assistant” in India to electronically “run” her errands; she moves her family into a building that was once a home for wayward girls; she wears a fishing vest for the convenience of having her glasses, keys, etc. readily available.
The mothers at Bee’s school (whom Bernadette refers to as “gnats”) scorn her. The architectural world she has abandoned considers her a mysterious and iconic revolutionary. Her husband fluctuates between admiration of and frustration over her, when he isn’t too preoccupied to think about her at all. Her daughter loves her.
One of the strengths that Semple brings to this story is to make Bernadette a sympathetic character, not just another eccentric crazy. You see her through the eyes of her husband and daughter, and you root for her the whole way through.
The action revolves around an upcoming trip to Antarctica to reward Bee for her achievements at school. Bernadette, of course, is dreading it, which sets off a series of events that culminate in her disappearance. The documents that comprise the book help solve the mystery of where Bernadette has gone and what she has done.
This book is often laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s impossible not to enjoy the roasting that the oh-so politically correct moms, school, and city get. But underneath it all is a story of a damaged woman who fiercely loves her family – and whose family fiercely loves her.
Grade – A