There are two things that I consistently muse on and measure a book with when I’m reading it. The first is whether it’s the right level of a page-turner or not. I can get pretty bored with a book if it’s not enticing me to keep reading, but I can also get pretty frustrated with a book if I feel like I’m being manipulated into reading it all in one sitting (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games). The second thing I take note of is a book’s narration. I am always more likely to stick with a book if I feel like the author is doing something fascinating and new with the narration, while maintaining a level of readability and excellence.
Where’d You Go Bernadette is readable, it’s excellent, the author Maria Semple did something fascinating and new with the narration, and also I read it in one sitting. But for the first time in a long time, I’ve deemed this a good thing! I was in no way manipulated to do this by cheap cliff-hangers at the end of chapters (yes, Hunger Games, still looking at you). Instead, I was absolutely all in and remained incredibly interested in what would happen next throughout the entirety of the novel due to skilled writing, unique characters, and a plot worth turning pages for. Also I was in a house without Netflix, just to be perfectly honest.
The characters in this book are unlike any you are going to meet anytime soon. They are wicked smart, sharp, hysterical, intriguing, and complex. I don’t know if I could say that I actually liked any of them, but I definitely felt the desire to know anything and everything Semple was willing to share with me about them.
Just because it’s complicated, just because you think you can’t ever know everything about another person, it doesn’t mean you can’t try.
Semple used to write for television–this book had me at “Before turning to fiction, she wrote for Arrested Development” on the back cover–and it shows. The dialogue is super snappy and fun, piecing the plot together through several different means. We enter Bernadette’s-crumbling-around-her-world through emails, letters, magazine articles, FBI reports, blog posts, faxes, captains reports, and even an emergency room bill. See what I was saying about playing with narration? You’ll find yourself in the head of most characters, looking at Bernadette from every angle, and taking a whack at figuring out what exactly it is this agoraphobic woman is hiding (or hiding from).
Bernadette’s a little crazy, a lot selfish, but more than anything she’s a fiercely creative woman who loves the people she loves the best ways she knows how. Being inside of her head feels like an exclusive and unparalleled place to be. Getting to experience her through the loyal heart of her daughter, the visionary mind of her husband, and the judging eyes of the people who just don’t get her is a fascinating account of how we can be so many different things to so many different people.
You’re bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.
Chasing after Bernadette as her life spirals out of control is a sweet reminder that even when our stories feel a lot off track, we might just be finally calibrating ourselves in the right direction.