North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

By Mary Burns
Between the Covers 

Seattle setting comes alive with great writing

Review: "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple

 

When Bernadette Fox moves to Seattle, she takes Internet shopping and out-sourcing to the extreme: She hires a personal assistant in India. (This actually makes Manjula a "virtual assistant.") Yes, for 75 cents an hour, she can entirely avoid dealing with Seattle's polite drivers at five-way stops. She simply e-mails requests to Manjula, who uses Bernadette's credit card numbers to make reservations, do her business transactions and shop for her.

In California, she was a brilliant, forward-thinking architect who took green-building to the highest level. Through an abundance of e-mails, letters and memos, we learn how her caustic wit and sensibilities have taken her away to what she now sees as the unending rain and blackberries of Seattle. Her happiest occasion here is her discovery of the fishing vest--with more pockets than a purse, and wearable! Bernadette is a bit eccentric, but she does have good taste.

Her husband is pedaling a recumbent bike to his job at Microsoft and working long hours. Her daughter is excelling at a private school where they encourage parent participation. Bernadette is mired in coping with PTA mothers and idiotic neighbors.

Maria Semple is smack-on when it comes to the whole Seattle Experience. While we're accustomed to the blackberries and rain, do we ever talk about the five-way-stop-polite-drivers? But this novel is so much more: There's a family of three dealing with more than the outside "stuff," but all doing what they do so well as individuals.

This all comes together incredibly well. The book is witty and bright and insightful. The author has made an excellent transition from writing for sitcoms like "Mad About You" and "Arrested Development" to settling us in our armchairs and giving us something to talk about. Thank you, Maria!

 

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