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8.17.2014

"Where'd You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple

Had I written a reveiw of this book when I was about 50 pages in it would have been an emphatic two thumbs down.  The style seemed unbelievable; pretty much the entire book is told through letters; long, verbose letters written amongst 10 or so characters.  These letters included dialoge.  When was the last time you composed an e-mail that was 7-8 pages long and included dialogue?

Additionally, the Seattle references, though for the most part accurate, were not at all subtle.  One character ends a letter saying, totally out of context, "Go Huskies!"
 Semple references restaurants, Pearl Jam's kids, Dale Chihuly, Microsoft, Bainbridge Island, the ferries, etc. at least once on every page, and so it reads as though she's screaming between the lines "THIS BOOK TAKES PLACE IN SEATTLE!"  And this was a very upper-crest Seattle that Semple presented; characters with multiple graduate degrees who dress from head to toe in REI gear and vacation in Antarctica.  Maybe it's sort of a 'what's best about this book is also what's worst about it' since I also found the very-specific setting to be an asset to the book.

And once I was able to suspend my disbelief insofar as the letter writing was concerned, as well as look past the exagerrated Seattle references, the content was quite good.  I effortlessly beceame interested in the characters and the story.  Semple is a funny writer and the epistolary format was in fact pretty fun.  The book deals with an interesting theme; that of blocked artists recovering (or not really recovering) from tremendous failure.  Despite all of the humor, there's a lot of hurt in the story as well.

The story is told from the point of view of Bee, Bernadette's daughter.  Bernadette had been a cutting-edge award winning architect who's career stopped when her award-winning house was torn down.  It's a long and circuitous story that Semple tells, weaving in the story lines of other characters, of Bernadette's road to recovery.

Maria Semple has a great trailer for her book and she's got a great website.  She's pretty upper-crest, so I guess that she's writing about her own life and her own experiences.  Do I hate her b/c she's upper crest; is it an immediate turn off?  Well, kind of.  Personally, I've had enough of the ego-maniacal-Anarctica-vacationing-REI-clad-overeducated Seattlite.  Dunno.  There's different perspectives from which to see that city; and perhaps her point of view is not the most alluring.

Sherman Alexie, the dick that he is, will tell a good story about Seattle that from a different point of view.  He, in fact, from what I've heard him say, has tremendious disdain for anything at all upper-crest.

And there you have it.

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