Clever as a Fox

A review of Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I think I've found my favorite book of the summer, now that autumn is in the air. I've read some very good ones, but the only book that has made me actually laugh out loud is Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Semple was a writer for one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Arrested Development, (which will be back for one more season!) and her website features some pretty awesome creepy doll pictures. These things alone got me pretty excited about the book, so when I started reading glowing reviews too, I started to worry that it would be impossible for the book to live up to my expectations. However, I was delighted to find that it was even better than I expected.

Bernadette Fox is having a rough time. A former rising star in the architecture world, she's now spending her days avoiding the gnat-like mothers at her teenage daughter Bee's private school; hating Seattle, where her family has settled in order for her husband to become a big deal at Microsoft; and hiding out in her decrepit house, a fixer-upper that she bought before Bee was born and still hasn't gotten around to fixing up. Her agoraphobic tendencies have escalated to the point that she's conducting all of her business, from banking to making dinner reservations, with the help of an online personal assistant living in India. When her nervousness about an upcoming trip to Antarctica brings Bernadette to a breaking point, she escapes. 

With no sign of her mother's whereabouts, Bee decides to do some detective work. She gathers a variety of documents relating to her mother's current issues and her past, hoping to find a clue as to where she's gone. From these documents, which include emails between Bernadette and her outsourced assistant Manjula, articles about Bernadette's career, and miscellaneous communications from Bee's school and various parents of her classmates, we can piece together the story of Bernadette's unraveling. Each character embodied in these bits and pieces is simply fantastic.  Bernadette herself is a sharp observer of humanity with a scathing sense of humor, and her impassioned tirades against Seattle, the stereotypical helicopter moms at Bee's school, and pretty much everything else are hilarious. What we get to see of the other people in Bernadette's life is equally funny, and framing it all is Bee's wit and innocence, revealing the warmth and love that lies beneath all of the craziness. It's just a wonderful book, and with its spot-on dialogue and vivid imagery, I bet it would be pretty great onscreen, too. If only the Fox family could take after the Bluth clan...