Where'd You Go, Bernadette

  • by Maria Semple
  • Narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite
  • 9 hrs and 39 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle - and people in general - has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence - creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Best listen of the summer!

This book deserves to be reviewed by someone who has one tenth of the writing talent of Janet Maslin but that's not me. I am in a much lower percentile. So please stick with me while I try to describe how this wonderful novel became my favorite of the summer.

The plot moves along so fast with so many twists I listened in one sitting always anticipating what would come next. All the characters are human, not caricatures, and the hilarity comes from their interactions and obsessions.

I live in the desert and after months of triple digit temperatures I become as agoraphobic as Bernadette. I love the cooling memory of Seattle's rain, but Bernadette hates the city's weather and its culture, stays inside at her computer and maintains her closest friendship with her "virtual assistant" in India.

Her husband Elgin is a star at Microsoft, has given the fourth most watched lecture at TED where Al Gore and David Pogue were in attendance. There's a liberal sprinkling of techie ikons through the narrative to enjoy if you read tech columns and wish you could understand Wired Magazine articles.

Their daughter Bee, 14, graduating with straight S 's (S = Surpasses Excellence) from Galer Street school is rewarded with a family trip to Antarctica. Bee's character is like fresh air out of the Northwest. She has no affectations, no cell phone addiction and listens to MP3's on her Zune. She "gets" both parents.

Bernadette's antipathy toward the school's parent association and her fear of the Antarctica trip are the initial psychological motivations. The flash point is her neighbor Audrey's demand to have her yard cleared of blackberry bushes. Audrey is part of the Galer street parent group and receives the brunt of Bernadette's spite but gives back as good as she gets. The fighting provides lots of the laughs.

Even the minor characters are beautifully drawn and full of surprises. From the "blackberry abatement specialist" who doesn't want Audrey's chard to her delinquent son, all are unique and clearly rendered.

What caused Bernadette's initial escape from LA to Seattle? Where did she disappear to this time? It's great fun to get to the answers.
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- Bobbie

Here Comes the Sun, doo doo doo doo

A case of one skill translating perfectly to another field...Maria Semple is an accomplished TV writer (Mad About you, Arrested Development) with years of perfecting the art of compacting a storyline with dialogue and comedy into the most effective punch possible for a time slot. It's a good thing books don't come with laugh tracks--or you'd be downloading thousands of hours to accompany this energetic and hilarious romp--because it is funny. Not rolling off the couch guffawing or holding your sides funny, but clever snarky fun that Semple reigns in just enough to keep her characters real and multi-dimensional instead of implausible quirky stand-ins delivering witty one-liners. These people are smart, troubled, caring, and completely original, all tumbling down a slippery slope from LA to Seattle to Argentina to India (and the Russian mafia) to the Antartica--a story that follows one misunderstanding along all of its crazy off-shoots. Seattle, seen through the eyes of native Californian Bernadette's eyes, becomes a wacky character itself.

Bernadette is a "misplaced" LA to Seattle artist that "can't create," causing mayhem and acting on whims and pent-up anxiety; Elgin is a brainiac that spends his shoe-less days as a Micorsoft demi-god; Bee is the precocious perfect mix of the two with a insouciant bohemian heart, and a genius and insight uniquely her own (and worships the Beatles Abbey Road - lyrics, history, and all. Her mother's favorite song ironically is Here Comes the Sun; Harrison's guitar lead in "always causes [her mother] to smile.") Bee also serves as the voice that connects this series of communications (faxes, e-mails, letters, memo's, FBI reports, etc.) into a map to find her missing mother Bernadette, who escapes "the butterfly nets" during a mental-health intervention...she went out "through the bathroom window"... that ends up being more like a Keystone Cops episode.

As far as the narration...if you'd have asked me 20 min. in, I'd have said awful. The writing style is already a bit frenetic and the animated adolescent voice of Bee made me want to offer the narrator some Ritalin; I almost threw in the towel. But I was hooked enough by the charming calamity that I didn't want to quit. I also realized that when you committ to audio books you have to weigh the risk of great stories being told by not-so-great narrators, or vice versa (and the wonderful times when you get a magical pairing of 2 greats). I'm so glad I took the pragmatic approach because I ended up really liking Kathleen Willhoite; I think she may have been the perfect narrator for this story afterall (a case of a not-so-great listener...).

A fresh and captivating read that will appeal to anyone that appreciates good smart comedy and satire--just as good for Bernards as for Bernadettes. If you pass because you think this is only chick fic [?] you are missing out. I just dare you to read this and not smile. The funny feel good book of the Summer of 2012.
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- Mel

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-14-2012
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio