CBR Bingo entry Backlog.
This is gonna sound weird, but this novel lost me when it started introducing too much plot. I was loving it for the first half when we were just learning about the characters and making fun of people in Seattle (no offense, Seattle), but then things went off the rails for me, and not in a fun way.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a story about a semi-dysfunctional family living in Seattle. Bernadette was once a celebrated Los Angeles architect who now lives in self-inflicted obscurity in Washington state with her Microsoft-employed genius of a husband Elgin and their 15-year old daughter Bee. The majority of the story is told via emails and memos with some interspersed narration from Bee, who strikes me as a typical teenager. We’re introduced to Audrey Griffin, the overbearing neighbor and fellow parent at Bee’s school who is painted as a stereotypical holier-than-though Christian: critical of everyone around her while blind to the faults of her hooligan son Kyle. We’re also introduced to Soo-Lin Lee-Segal, another parent who starts out as Audrey’s lap dog but ends up working as Elgin’s secretary and becomes a key component in my complaint about excessive plot developments.
Bernadette is what you might call “eccentric.” She appears to be mildly agoraphobic, so she has a secret assistant in India who carries out tasks for her, including calling in a dinner reservation from halfway around the world for a restaurant that is down the street from Bernadette’s home. When Bee asks for a trip to Antarctica as reward for getting perfect grades all through grade school and junior high, Bernadette has her Indian admin handle all the details, unbeknownst to Elgin, who works long hours and is never home. So far all this sounds kind of dreary, but it’s amusing, I assure you. In one series of emails, Bernadette asks Manjula (the Indian assistant) to find her the strongest antidote for seasickness available. When she goes to a pharmacy to pick it up, she discovers the medicine contains some really heavy-duty drugs, including the antipsychotic Haldol. “It was used in the Soviet prison system to break prisoners’ wills,” the pharmacist explains. “And I’m only discovering it now?” Bernadette replies.
To be honest, that was funnier the first time I read it.
I can’t say Bernadette is particularly likable, but there are some really touching moments between her and Bee. In one of my favorite passages, Mom and daughter sing along in the car to Abbey Road, and Bee notes that “. . .Mom knew every single word of the song! Not just every word, but every cadence. She knew every ‘all right!’ and ‘aww!’ and ‘yeaaah.’ ” After listening to “Here Comes the Sun,” Bee narrates that Bernadette pauses the song and says,
” ‘Oh Bee. . .This song reminds me of you.’ She had tears in her eyes.
‘Mom!’ This is why I didn’t want her to come to the first grade elephant dance. Because the most random things get her way too full of love.”
I enjoyed moments like this throughout the novel. And then, weird stuff happens.
Turns out Bernadette’s Indian assistant is really a network of Russian hackers scamming her out of her credit card numbers and other personal info. Elgin stages an intervention to get Bernadette to voluntarily commit herself. Audrey Griffin has a spiritual awakening, realizes she’s been horrible, and helps Bernadette “escape.” Bernadette goes missing. Soo-Lin gets pregnant via a one-night stand with Elgin. Bee talks Elgin into taking her to Antarctica anyway, where she finds her missing mother. Let me say that again. Bee finds Bernadette. In Antarctica.
I don’t feel like I should have to say this. . . but that all seems pretty unlikely. Way to kill the Portlandia-like buzz I was enjoying with all this unnecessary drama. Why couldn’t we just go on making fun of private schools, and hypocrites, and self-righteous support groups? To make matters worse, so much of the conflict is left completely unresolved. What happens to Soo-Lin and her baby? It sounds like Elgin promises to “take care of her,” meaning he buys her a house? That seems like a pretty long, tangled string to leave hanging. Do Bernadette and Elgin resolve their differences? Does Bee grow up to be a total mess, because I kind of liked her and her goofy friend Kennedy.
This has been on my to-be-read list for quite a while, so I’m glad I can finally check off that box. I didn’t dislike it. . .I just don’t feel like I can give it a strong recommendation. I understand a movie version starring Cate Blanchett is due to be released in Spring. I’m keeping an open mind, because I do think this could be a case where the movie turns out better than the book.