Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (2012)

by Maria Semple

That geniuses can be eccentric is hardly a revelation. Bernadette Fox’s Seattle neighbors, unaware of her history as a MacArthur genius awardee, see her only as trouble.

Before Bernadette and her Microsoft executive husband settled in Seattle, she designed a pioneering, much-praised green house in Los Angeles. A neighbor with whom she feuded bought the house surreptitiously and tore it down, plunging Bernadette into a tailspin from which she hasn’t recovered two decades later. Unemployed since moving to Seattle, Bernadette spends her days holed up at home, a decrepit former school that she was supposed to renovate. She shuns contact, refusing invitations to become involved in her teenage daughter’s school, thinks of the other parents and her neighbors as “gnats,” and rants about everything from five-way intersections to Canadians.

Fearing that Bernadette needs psychiatric confinement, her husband stages an intervention, from which Bernadette manages to escape and disappear. Daughter Bee refuses to accept that her mother is gone for good and leads her father on a search.

Semple brings a satirical perspective to a serious subject, creating a wonderful character in the irascible Bernadette, who gives as much grief as she gets. Seattle’s hip culture is also the butt of many laughs. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? expertly walks the fine line between satire and sympathy and leaves readers with a better understanding of the need for geniuses to keep creating.


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