by Maria Semple
First sentence: “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.'”
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Bernadette Fox is one of those enigmas that drive Soccer Moms crazy. She’s a recluse, she’s doesn’t involve herself in the PTO, she has impeccable fashion sense, and she’s talented. All of which adds up to jealousy and gossip.
As told from Bernadette’s 14-year-old daughter Bee’s point of view, here are the events that led up to Bernadette’s disappearance:
1. Seattle is horrible. (I, personally, can’t vouch for that, but then I never lived there. But it she made a very good case for Seattle being full of a bunch of urbanite wannabes, without the sophistication, which makes for insecure and vicious women.)
2. The neighbor (one of those urbanite wannabes Bernadette calls “gnats”) insists on Bernadette removing ALL of the blackberry bushes from her yard. In the middle of the wettest December ever.
3. In the middle of the neighbor’s party, the entire hillside (where the aforementioned blackberry bushes were) slides down into the house destroying the party (and the house). Which sets neighbor off.
4. Another “gnat” (and neighbor’s best friend) becomes Bernadette’s husband’s admin. With disastrous results.
5. Bee wants to go on a cruise to Antartica. In December (it’s their summer). Which sets off Bernadette’s anxiety.
6. Husband decides (with some prompting by aforementioned admin gnat) that what Bernadette really needs is to be checked into a mental institution.
So, of course Bernadette has little choice but to disappear.
Someone asked me, after reading the jacket blurb, “Is this a sad book?” I can wholeheartedly say: No, it’s not. It’s funny, it’s pointed at those people (women, mostly) who want to pretend to be Sophisticated, it’s a heartfelt exploration of depression and of acceptance. And it’s a testament to a girl’s faith in her mother. It’s a sweet story, if a bit rambling at times, one that I didn’t mind spending a few hours reading.