You Said Whatever I Want: I Want To Go To Antarctica

Jul 19, 2014

"Where’d You Go Bernadette?" By Maria SempleWhere’d You Go Bernadette?
By Maria Semple
Little Brown and Company, 2012
Editor, Judy Clain
Agent, Anna Stein Aitken Alexander Associates

Here’s a mother-daughter story with the unlikely combination of agoraphobia and Antarctica. It is a satirical send up of the young professional and family scene in Seattle — a modern epistolary tale told in email, letters, FBI documents, psychiatrist’s records and even emergency room bills.

When fifteen year old Bee Branch receives straight S’s (for “Surpasses Excellence”) from the Galer Street School— “a place where compassion, academics and global connectitude join together,” Bee calls in her chit. Her parents had promised her anything she wanted.

What Bee wants is a family trip to Antarctica.

What her mother does is disappear.

Bernadette Fox, a thwarted creative genius, left her architecture behind in LA when she moved to Seattle with her husband, Elgin Branch, a Ted talking, Microsoft rock star. Bernadette’s Seattle world is populated with virtual assistants in India, other parents (gnats), nasty neighbors, and every modern techno, athletic and eco fad happening in Seattle.

Despite flashes of humor which move the story along at a steady clip, there is an underlying sadness in Bernadette’s misery and Bee’s heartfelt search. Few of the characters in Where’d You Go Bernadette? are “likable,” yet Bee strives to love them and this gives a poignant underbelly to the satirical humor.

Maria SempleMaria Semple lives in Seattle with her family. Before writing novels, she was a television writer on smart shows such as Arrested Development, Mad About You and Ellen. She taught herself to write novels by reading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. Her more traditionally structured first novel, This One is Mine, did not do as well as she hoped, but from her disappointment rose the frustrated artist, Bernadette Fox. While Seattle was disturbing when Maria Semple first moved, she has adjusted and reports that none of the parents are ‘gnats,’ in fact, they are hearty fans of the book Where’d You Go Bernadette?

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