Bee, Bernadette, and Elgin are three idiosyncratically named family members of a very idiosyncratic family. Bee is arguably precocious, arguably angsty, certainly adolescent, and well beyond her years. She’s a brilliant child with a bright future and a good heart. Elgin is incredibly busy, rather aloof, and growing more and more tired of his wife. But he’s brilliant, and behind Samantha 2, one of the most hyped (fictional) Microsoft products that allows you to control robots with your brain. Bernadette is agoraphobic, misanthropic, neurotic, but is someone redeemed by her ability to respond in a pinch. Before Seattle, she was a renowned architect and MacArthur recipient. Bee got her needed straight S’s (in lieu of A’s) and decided that she wanted to go to Antarctica. Bernadette, in preparation of the trip, requests help from a “virtual” assistant named Manjula, but along the way, she crosses paths with PTA mom-extraordinaire Audrey Griffin. Elgin is trying his hardest to get Samantha 2 completed, and for more help, turns to another PTA-mom Soo Lin-Segal, his new admin. Bee is preparing to go to a new boarding school. However, the family is in disarray despite all of the positive things going on in their lives. This dysfunction culminates in the disappearance of Bernadette.
This book is…well to steal a line from Bernadette, “life is random”. Despite a fairly logical flow for the book, it seems random. Nothing ends in a satisfactory manner, in my opinion. For example, in the first part, there is a huge mudslide that took down Audrey’s house, which is the result of actions by Audrey and by Bernadette. We get allusions to a confrontation between the two, but it is fleeting before we move to the next part. It is interesting that the book tries not to focus on these smaller conflicts but rather the bigger familial conflict at the heart of the book, and it does pay off in some sense in the end. But it never feels like a complete book.
Further, none of the characters are particularly likeable. Bee is obnoxious, masquerading as precocious. Elgin is a terrible father. Bernadette is just not a good person. Circumstance may have hurt them, but as Elgin points out, maybe they also just got used to their actions and behaviors and learned to accept them. However, as a reader, I never quite understood why I should care about the characters, other than the fact that they probably love each other. The side characters are also caricatures unto themselves. Redemption arc aside, Audrey is supposedly a hilarious portrayal of the suburban PTA mom, but it just feels desperate and sad. Soo Lin just goes crazy with her Victims against Victimhood mantras, which, as an aside, were really strange to me. And the Manjula storyline just disappears in the later parts of the book.
Is this a good book? Perhaps. The way the book is presented is interesting and you’re given enough details to know the plot but not so much that you feel it is being spoonfed to you. The ending is heartfelt and shows how this dysfunctional family could work. But overall, I didn’t enjoy it through and through. The writing was funny more often than not, but I could just never get behind the characters. I never cared where Bernadette went, but at least we do find out where. I would recommend this book to people who want to see a unique way of telling a story.