“Where’d You go Bernadette,” is a light, funny story of a social misfit, Bernadette, her daughter, Bee and her husband, Elgie. As you might be able to tell from the not so subtle title, Bernadette mysteriously goes missing. You can get the flavor of the book on the first page when Bee is musing: “The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, ‘What’s most important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.’ You’ll notice that wasn’t even the question.”
The story is told through letters, emails and Bee’s observations about everything.
Bernadette is an eccentric but brilliant architect transplanted from Los Angeles to Seattle and not at all happy about it (even though the move was her choice)! Bernadette had designed and built The Twenty Mile House in Los Angeles and won a McArthur Grant. Things went awry for her shortly thereafter. Husband Elgie is a Microsoft genius and best known for a Ted Talk exhibiting artificial intelligence and for wandering around work with no shoes.
Bernadette travels to Seattle on her own to buy a home. She cannot get over the fact that all the homes in Seattle are Craftsman, which she disdains. “It’s like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle in a collective trance. You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house…”.
As a reaction to her distaste for the local architecture, Bernadette buys a 7000 square foot former Catholic school for wayward girls known as Straight Gate, renamed Gatehouse. The structure is in a terrible state of disrepair and despite her architectural talents, Bernadette does little to improve conditions.
The family moves to Los Angeles and enroll Bee in the Glaser School, a well-regarded private school seeking an even higher social status. Bernadette cannot countenance the other parents, whom she calls gnats, and refuses to engage with them. Her neighbor, Audrey Griffin, is planning a brunch fundraiser for the school at her house and is horrified by the wild blackberry bushes that have invaded her yard from Bernadette’s yard. Worse yet, when Audrey tries to confront Bernadette while Bernadette is in her car to pick up Bee from school, Bernadette runs over Audrey’s foot ( or so Audrey says). Ultimately, Bernadette agrees to have the blackberry bushes removed, resulting in a mudslide which destroys Audrey’s house. Really, I could go on and on here with all of the hilarious events in this book.
Bernadette has such high social anxiety that she hires a virtual assistant from India, named Manjula, and pays her $30 a week, to handle her personal affairs. Bernadette and Elgie agree to take Bee on a cruise to Antarctica for making straight As at school. Bernadette’s anxiety is at its highest when anticipating this trip and she has Manjula make all the plans, order the clothes and arrange for seasickness medicine, giving Manjula all of the family’s personal and financial information. In the meantime, one of the gnats becomes Elgie’s assistant at Microsoft and you might just guess where that leads.
Immediately before the family is to leave for Antarctica, Bernadette disappears. Bee and Elgie go on the trip without her. The novel has psychiatrists, FBI agents, spies, criminals and police detectives. There are drugs, sex and alcohol ( no rock and roll that I recall), religious zealots and teen age troublemakers , interventions and wilderness rehab. And there is always Bee’s wacky friend Kennedy in the background.
The book is a blast. Lots of fun and an enjoyable (if not totally believable) story to boot. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.