Review of WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by MARIA SEMPLE
(review based on an advance reading copy)
This book hardly jumped out at me from the shelves as something I would love, but enough people told me how much they enjoyed it that I finally took the chance. (Also, Semple’s biography reveals she was one of the writers for the television show, Arrested Development, which I love and that certainly peaked my interest.) Now I’m here to tell the next string of people on the fence about WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE that it lives up to the hype.
Right off, you’ll notice the unusual format Semple uses to tell this story, mostly through snippets and chunks from emails and other correspondence. Most people I know who have read this book sing its praises, but the few who feel more apathetic all say it's because they couldn’t get past the structure. For me, it wasn’t an issue. If you’re worried this method leaves the story scattered or unclear, that’s not the case at all. Once the book absorbed me (which only took a few pages) I forgot all about the format.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is weird and hilarious and serious all at the time, with well-measured doses of each always delivered at the proper times. ‘Hilarious’ is the novel’s strongest hook, but the ‘serious’ sneaks up on you with more poignancy and insight than one might expect from something so insanely funny.
The plot’s tricky to describe and may even trivialize the book’s genius when summarized, because really it’s the characters and the humor that make this story special, not a “wow-that-sounds-so-unique” elevator pitch. As the title implies the story leads up to the disappearance of Bernadette: wife, mother, and either remarkably quirky individual or absolute lunatic. Said disappearance actually happens quite late in the book with most of the novel comprising of an amusing suburban dispute escalating until you’re not quite sure how things snowballed this intensely.
Since WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE snags the reader with humor, the emotional resonance really took me by surprise. At first pieces of wisdom pop up here and there between the absurdity, but the ratio subtly shifts over the course of the story until by the end we’re left mostly with raw emotion and little laughter. Loved the merriment. Loved the sincerity. Loved the book.