Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a perfectly fine book. I think a lot of people like it a lot. It’s the story of Bee, a teenager in Seattle, whose mother Bernadette disappears one day. Most of the book covers what leads up to her disappearance, while the end talks about the aftermath and the efforts to find her. I found this book quite engaging and finished it in just a few days. I liked the format (it’s mainly a series of emails sent between different characters, that Bee is reading to try and figure out what made her mother leave, and where she went).
The problem is that I can’t tell how I’m supposed to feel about the characters. Am I supposed to like Bee’s dad? Feel sorry for him? Is he a neglectful husband, or does Bee’s mother purposely leave him out of the loop? And as for Bernadette, am I supposed to like her? I emphatically did not. I felt sorry for her, when some of her backstory came out, but I didn’t like her. I didn’t like the other mothers at Bee’s school, who serve as the antagonists. I didn’t like Bee’s father’s secretary. I liked Bee okay, but I just felt like her parents were awfully self-centered. It seems that Bernadette’s disappearance could have been avoided with a few text messages (does it take place before cell phones? I’ve already forgotten. With a few emails or phone calls, then). Certain parts made me laugh (the mudslide!). And like I said, I found it quite readable. I just felt, at the end, that it didn’t add up to much substance, and it certainly didn’t add up to anything I’d want to read again.
I think with this book the problem is simply that I am not the right audience. This is a very popular book, so clearly my quibbles are not universal. I just need to stop reading these contemporary fiction books. I don’t like them. I read them five years after everyone else, because I want to be part of the zeitgeist yet at the same time I don’t really want to read them, so they just languish on my TBR list forever. Then when I finally read them, I’m too late to be part of the conversation and I also read yet another book I didn’t really like. I couldn’t remember the last contemporary fiction book that I truly enjoyed, so I went to my Goodreads page to look. Other than Anne Tyler, (who I love for other reasons) in the past 10 years I have given 4 or more stars to only two contemporary fiction books. TWO in ten years! And I never read either of them again, so I’m not all that sure they really deserved four stars to begin with. A few years ago, after reading Fates and Furies, I swore off contemporary fiction but I guess it didn’t stick. I think it’s time to do that again.