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.
I just finished this book and it is one of the most insightful contemporary novels I've read recently.
That said, I sympathize with the readers who stopped listening after a couple of hours and gave it 1-2 stars as I would have. The beginning does seem like a simple retelling of adolescent banter and escapades that got irritating and old very quickly. I thought I'd misunderstood the description.
But I kept listening and found the book incredible. Murray's story presents the odd and at times unexplainable elements of human nature in a post-modern age. Who "wins" and who "gets ahead." And how many of us never really see what's truly going on -- even though we're 'good' people.
So, if you like cultural insights - and can accept the obnoxious, humorous, and tragic antics of both adolescents -- and adults. Then you may enjoy this book.