Ha­tred fu­els hi­lar­ity

Miss­ing wife makes for much fun

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - TRACY SHER­LOCK

Well, here’s a hi­lar­i­ous book. It’s about a mother, Ber­nadette, who suf­fered a “re­ally bad thing” and now hardly leaves the house. She hires a vir­tual as­sis­tant in In­dia, who does things like make din­ner reser­va­tions. She’s an out­cast among Seattle pri­vate school moth­ers be­cause she never vol­un­teers in the class­room and doesn’t walk her daugh­ter Bee to the door when she drops her off at school.

Her hus­band, El­gie, is a Mi­crosoft wun­derkind work­ing on a se­cret project. Ber­nadette used to be a ge­nius ar­chi­tect be­fore the “re­ally bad thing,” but now she’s mainly a mis­an­thropic recluse. Be­fore sec­ondary school, Bee aces her re­port card and calls her par­ents on a prom­ise to give her what­ever she wants for a per­fect re­port card.

What she wants is a trip to Antarc­tica; this causes anx­i­ety for her mother be­cause she hates peo­ple, hates to leave the house and suf­fers sea­sick­ness. But for Bee, she will go. Days be­fore they’re sched­uled to leave, Ber­nadette dis­ap­pears af­ter a heated in­ci­dent with her hus­band.

The story is nar­rated by Bee, but the ac­tual lin­ear nar­ra­tion is min­i­mal. Most of the story is told in bits and pieces through emails, memos from the school, and other bits of ev­i­dence. This way, au­thor Maria Sem­ple gets us inside the heads of many dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, and mostly Ber­nadette, who is truly hi­lar­i­ous.

Ber­nadette’s ha­tred of ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing about Seattle al­lows Sem­ple the chance to poke fun at Seattle, and es­pe­cially Cana­di­ans, through the slightly off thought pro-

By Maria Sem­ple Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pany

$28.99; 336 pages cesses of Ber­nadette as she spi­rals out of con­trol. For ex­am­ple, Ber­nadette writes to her as­sis­tant, “One of the rea­sons I don’t like leav­ing the house is be­cause I might find my­self face-to­face with a Cana­dian. Seattle is crawl­ing with them. ... The way you might fear a cow sit­ting down in the mid­dle of the street dur­ing rush hour, that’s how I fear Cana­di­ans.”

Sem­ple lives in Seattle, so her observatio­ns about the city south of Van­cou­ver and its in­hab­i­tants are pretty much on the mark. She was pre­vi­ously a TV writer, with work on Ellen, Satur­day Night Live and Mad About You. She’s also the au­thor of This One is Mine, a 2008 novel about a dis­sat­is­fied wife and mother.

Women who dis­ap­pear are a theme this year in fic­tion — Gone Girl, a story by Gillian Flynn about a wife who dis­ap­pears on her fifth wed­ding an­niver­sary, tack­les a sim­i­lar sub­ject, but in a dif­fer­ent man­ner. Here, al­though the rea­sons for Ber­nadette’s de­spair are se­ri­ous, the sto­ry­telling is funny to the point of za­ni­ness. The story hooks you in im­me­di­ately with its mod­ern themes of over-thetop par­ent­ing, tech­nol­ogy and iso­la­tion and doesn’t let you go un­til the end­ing.

Where’d You Go, Ber­nadette

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