Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Posted on Updated on

I’ll admit it happily: I love audiobooks. I have frequent drives that are at least 4.5 hrs, one way, if there is no traffic. I normally take them out of the library (yay, libraries!) and enjoy. Radio is pretty spotty during the drive so audiobooks cannot be beaten. So, please note that I listened to Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

 Where’d You Go, Bernadette? follows 8th grader B and her family. Her father, Elgin, is a super famous computer programmer and her mother, Bernadette, was a MacArthur Grant winning architect.  B is super excited for a family trip to Antarctica, but her mother has been at the center of conflict at B’s school and her parents’ relationship is balanced precariously. Her mother has been treading water since the destruction of her most famous house and her father is seriously considering committing Bernadette. When Bernadette disappears mysteriously two days before Christmas, B decides she must discover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance.

The story has the potential to look in-depth at some pertinent issues: depression, mommy wars, difficulties in cultural assimilation, and relationship struggles and coping mechanisms. What’s really unfortunate is that Where’d You Go, Bernadette? skips over these issues in large part. Maria Semple creates a picture of Bernadette that is erratic, combative, and depressed. In the end, instead of tackling Bernadette’s mental state with constructive help, Semple chooses to chalk it up to Bernadette’s “need to create.” This is obviously something lacking in the way Semple portrays depression, which runs, often, much deeper and in a much more complex way than presented. I found it very unsatisfying.

I thought that the voices were appropriately distinct. Much of the story was done in various documents and emails that they characters wrote. The characters were presented distinctly from one another and I found them to be fairly satisfying in that manner. Their development varied, though it wasn’t necessarily inappropriate in the voices’ differentiations. Again, in this respect, I was at times disappointed in the way that Bernadette was portrayed. She didn’t grow or seem to develop as a character. Elgin, her husband, sometimes did. Mostly, the characters were static.

I gave this book a 3/5. It was enjoyable, but wore on me.