Monday, July 3, 2017

Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Sixteen members attending the July, 2017 discussion of "Where'd You Go Bernadette?"  Most of the members loved the book, thought it was a great read for summer as it was quirky, "Quirky times a million" someone said, and it was a different format to read, almost like a play!  One person said they liked the teen perspective and parts of the book were humorous another said.

We were asked by our leader what we thought about the book, something about the book that you appreciated and why.   Here is a list of some of the members interesting parts:

**Audrey got exactly what she wanted when the blackberry bushes were removed and she received the mudslide!
**When Elgin fell down the basement stairs.
**They were celebrating Bee's birthday in the restaurant and Bernadette wrote: "It's a child's birthday.  What the  hell is wrong with you people?"
**When Audrey confronts Bernadette and throws out:  "No one really likes you anyway."  So junior high funny!  But then at the end, Audrey and Bernadette become friends!
**Loved the school!  There were parts where Audrey would report what happened, and that would get sent home to everyone.
**Audrey moves into Soo-Linn Lee-Segal's house!
**Loved the house that was recycled from everything within a certain distance, one that Audrey received a prestigious award.
**Audrey was on elevator with the kids and one had a teddy bear back pack with a tampon hanging on to the end, and Audrey lost it and attacked the back pack.
**Loved the quirky weather guy, who actually made weather forecasts fun!

We talked about the main characters in the book, Audrey, Soo-Linn, Bernadette, Elgin, Bee and even Seattle!  One of our members is from Seattle and we discussed Seattle!  We discussed the homes in the area, that they were noted as being many "Craftsman homes" and that Bernadette & Elgin's home, being a former "residential home" was very different.  We discussed whether she was unable to recognize how bad it was, or whether she was paralyzed by fear of failure and couldn't start the remodeling project?  We talked about the atmosphere of Seattle, which we felt was a character in the book, it's Microsoft culture, traffic problems, homelessness.  We talked about the school, Galer Street, which when they were looking for new kindergarten students, was seeking "Mercedes vs. Subaru parents."

Bernadette was the topic of discussion.  Was Bernadette eccentric or mentally ill some questioned?  Most of the group liked Bernadette.  Some were put off by her judgement of fellow parents at Bee's school.  Some of the teachers and former teachers in the group talked about over-involved parents and the culture of "catty parents" at school.  We talked about Bernadette's prior career in Los Angeles and her house.  One reader felt she was "architect of her own career failure" by picking a fight with her neighbor, and that his buying and tearing down her house devastated her.  We talked about the epiphany Bernadette had when she saw Bee working with the music group, seeing her daughter help create art. Some thought this had spurred Bernadette into action, preparing to travel, to be more involved and active mother.  Others thought that wasn't clearly happening until after their return from Antarctica, where she was able to regain her sense of purpose.

In regards to Elgin, some people thought he'd checked out of the marriage and into his important job as a way of not dealing with marriage, their disaster of a house or even parenting.  Someone said he was clueless about his marriage, his house, his wife's health until he saw her sleeping in the drug store.  THEN, he wanted an immediate fix that didn't require any more than absolutely what was necessary of his time and attention.  There was discussion on what we felt of the couple as parents, and one member said she really felt that Elgin was not a good dad.  That he was completely checked out of Bee's life.  She stated that his first real interaction with Bee was when they went looking for her mom.  Another said he was insensitive, how he was forcing Bee outside on the ship to Antartica, forcing her to admit that there was no way that her mom could have survived, that it was cruel of him to try to deny Bee any hope.   We talked about Soo-Linn and Elgin's relationship -- she was so in denial of what was truly happening!  She even said, Oh, Elgin loves presidents' names, he will love my son, Lincoln.  Some were quite upset with his affair, while others thought he was less to blame than Soo-Linn.

Audrey was a big part of the book also, was she realistic?  Did we "buy" her role in Bernadette's escape from intervention?  Some people thought she was over the top, others enjoyed her denial of her drug peddling son, and others cheered for her rescue of Bernadette, thinking that Audrey thought "that could be me getting committed!"

For most of us, it was a great summer read and a great book to discuss!

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