Where’d You Go Bernadette is told in epistolary format and revolves around anti-social Bernadette Fox, a former genius-level architect who appears to be agoraphobic, impulsive and suffers from severe social anxiety; her mostly-absent husband Elgie who is an executive computer engineer at Microsoft; and their fifteen-year-old daughter Bee, who has overcome a congenital heart condition and is now a straight-A student at a progressive charter school. Bernadette doesn’t get along with any of the other mothers at her daughter’s school (she refers to them all as “gnats”) and is in a bitter battle with her next-door neighbor Audrey Griffin, who definitely has it out for Bernadette. When her daughter Bee states that she wants a trip to Antartica as the promised reward for her perfect grade, Bernadette freaks out about the trip and begins to have sort of a meltdown.
Everything comes crashing down on Bernadette after her rivalry with Audrey escalates resulting in a mudslide (yes, a mudslide!). After a failed intervention by her husband Elgie, Bernadette disappears without a trace. Now it’s up to her daughter Bee to figure out what happened to her mother. And that’s what she does: by putting together a gigantic compilation of a complex series of emails, voicemails, school memos to parents, faxes, doctor bills, newspaper articles and even doctor reports, all of which reveal Bernadette’s backstory and secret past, of which most people were unaware (I won’t spoil what her secret is). It through all of these devices that Bee tells her mother’s story.
This novel ended up being a fun and entertaining satire on wealth and privilege, with many of the characters being self-deluded and clueless, resulting in some quite humorous over-the-top scenes. Come to think of it, Bernadette’s entire family and all of those around her are all over-the-top caricatures. In fact, everyone seems a bit mad.
I especially loved Bernadette’s character. She’s wildly eccentric, quirky and super complex: a brilliant woman whose suppressed artist talents have resulted in depression and anxiety, yet she’s still hopeful at the end of the day.
There were also quite a few surprising plot twists in the story, and everything came together beautifully at the end. This was such a humorous and inventive novel, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I found myself chuckling out loud several times while working my way through the story.
I also appreciated that one of the themes of the story points out what can happen to our mental state if we suppress our inner talents and instead, simply choose to “settle.” All in all, I loved this wacky novel, and if you can appreciate satire with plenty of dark humor, and are willing to suspend disbelief a little, then this book is well worth the read.