Many of you fellow Cannonballers read this one and you folks are not ambivalent about it. It appears to be a like it or leave it situation. I gotta say, I thought it was tremendous. This is a modern tale that pokes fun at Seattle, Microsoft, progressive schools, helicopter parents and impersonal technology that allows us to outsource our lives.
Elgin, Bernadette and Bee live in an upscale Seattle neighborhood. Elgin’s job at Microsoft affords them an affluent lifestyle but they live in a dilapidated former home for “wayward girls” that is being overtaken by blackberries. If you have ever been to Seattle, this is not surprising. The rain, people! It creates plant life that is intimidating. Elgin, a TED Talk superstar, is buried in a top secret work project . Bernadette, a quasi recluse, sustains herself on her irritation with the parents at her daughter’s school and frequent email exchanges with her Indian virtual assistant. Bee, a precocious middle school student, is trying to navigate an adolescence shadowed by a childhood heart condition, a workaholic father and an anti-social mother. When Bernadette suddenly vanishes, Bee tries to piece together the events leading up to her disappearance in an attempt to find her.
Told through e-mails, text messages, medical reports, articles and ship manifests, Semple draws a picture of a family and a community awash in privilege and ennui. When a mudslide starts a chain of events that pushes aside the surface of their lives, everyone is exposed.
While Semple’s characters clearly have some self-awareness issues and can be extremely self-absorbed, their idiosyncrasies are somehow endearing and not irritating. Bernadette, Elgin and Bee care for each other. Their comradery is palpable. My only issue is with Elgin. Semple’s initial set up of his character and the man he becomes towards the middle of the book didn’t jibe. His out of left field switcheroo is the only thing keeping me from 5 starring this one.