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.
©2012 Maria Semple (P)2012 Hachette Audio
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.
Like other reviewers said, there is something about this book that makes you feel like a glowing review somehow doesn't do it justice and can't adequately explain why this book is so entertaining and sweet.
Bernadette is a stifled artist who redirects her genius energy with some odd behavior. Elgin is her genius husband who works a little too much and misses some important goings on in his family. Bee is their daughter, a mix of the two--also genius, humorous and insightful. So, how is it that Bernadette goes missing? Well, that's where this book gets really entertaining.
The story is told through emails, letters and documents compiled into a book by Bee and it's a fun read. All of the characters are well written and Kathleen Wilhoitte does a great job of giving them each a distinct voice. It does take a little time to get used to, as she tends to be a little overexcited as Bee and their neighbor, but I really came to enjoy it by the end. You somehow end up loving and sympathizing with every character, even through their mistakes.
I was sad when this one ended!
Devoted Darwin8U Disciple
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.
The excellent narration brought the individual characters to life. I could picture each of the exchanges in emails and encounters as if they were a movie in my head. Reading this book by myself would never have been so entertaining, even though the writing is perfectly crisp and the story line is really funny. I bought this book without knowing anything about it and look forward to my daily walks just to get further along in the story.
Without spoiling anything, the scene where the entire hillside of Bernadette's house slips down to crush her neighbor's durning a fundraiser for their children's school. Who knew that blackberry vines could be the only thing holding up a hillside?
Bernadette! You have to listen to her, especially in the email to her former professor in LA. Just buy this book! It is so entertaining!
Addicted to Audible!
You need to suspend the idea that this book has any resemblence to reality to enjoy it. It's absurd, silly, ridiculous and fun. Its not well written or socially redeemable, its just junk food for the ears and mind!The emails are funny and I loved the way they were performed of course they were over the top. That is what a beach read is all about!!!
"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." --Lemony Snicket
The gorgeous cover of this book drew me in, but it was the unique plot that kept me hooked. Bernadette Fox is a certified genius in this novel, and author Maria Semple just might be too - in addition to keeping this story fresh and funny, she also has writing credits for the ridiculously wonderful show Arrested Development. Win-win!
And while it took me some time to warm up to Kathleen Wilhoite's performance - I feared her precocious reading of 15-year-old Bee would last all nine hours - I did get there, and was floored by her beautiful singing voice, which made a surprising (but delightful) appearance late in the story.
This is a funny book about a dysfunctional family of brillant people. The narrator does a great job capturing the voices of the characters. The story builds as each character must face their own choices in dealing with life, work and school. It leaves you feeling warm and happy.
It is in the top 20. Great story and well told.
I am not sure I have ever read a book like it. Told from the point of view of the daughter (mainly) the story unfolds in an interesting way that I can't explain without giving away a lot.
Her voice and expressiveness was great. Her voice for the daughter was childish and as the parents mature (except when the adults were acting childish).
Bernadette, you're a Mess!
Fun story. Long but worth it.
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
I resisted reading this book for a while because it didn't sound like something I would like, but after an impulse purchase from Audible, I was very pleasantly surprised. I won't recount the plot as others have done that much better than I could, but I think I enjoyed it because it was an entertaining read that also made me think. Many other reviewers seemed to think that Bernadette was a crazy, manipulative whiner, but I found her oddly interesting, especially when parts of her backstory are revealed. Once I understood why she did some of the things she did, I felt she was a compelling character, and I could even see some of myself in her. I hope that doesn't make me crazy, but I truly think she was responding to what was going on around her, and other characters' actions in the best way she knew how. Isn't that what we all try to do?
I think another reviewer captured this book best, "This book is definitely original, in terms of structure and tone, in terms of making funny things serious and serious things funny." This is exactly what Maria Semple has done, and in doing so she has written a highly original, entertaining, and thought-provoking book, worthy of a solid 4.5 stars.
I loved everything about this book! It is so fun and quirky but also has a good deep story to tell.
The narrator was incredible and truly sucked me right in to the book! She gave each character so much life and personality. I don't think anyone else could have done this book justice.
I laughed out loud many times.
This book was a such a great use of my credit definitely no regrets here.
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