For the very first time, my suggestion won the nomination for next month’s nostalgic English majors’ virtual book group—Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. I managed to snag a library copy and realized yesterday that it was due today, which meant I had to speed-read it and must now take super copious notes to retain anything for next month’s discussion.
WYGB centers around eccentric and agoraphobic Bernadette Fox-Branch and her teenaged daughter, Bee. According to her husband, Elgin Branch, Bernadette is a genius; according to the Seattle private school community, she’s a menace. To Bee, she’s simply a best friend. After Bernadette disappears right before a family vacation to Antarctica, Bee compiles personal and professional emails, newsletters, and memos in an attempt to find her mother and discover why she ran.
Semple’s strength here is definitely her humor. As a past writer for Arrested Development (among other hilarities), she deftly skewers Seattle’s upper-middle class community, especially private-school parents and Microsoft, where Elgin works. Bernadette’s rants on the “bike-riding, Subaru-driving, Keen-wearing” people who surround her were both amusing and bittersweet with homesickness for the granola-filled PNW. (Although Seattle is definitely a different brand from Oregon—for starters, Seattleites have money.)
Sometimes these cars have Idaho plates. And I think, What the hell is a car from Idaho doing here? Then I remember, that’s right, we neighbor Idaho. . . And any life that might still be left in me kind of goes poof.
I must admit that as much as I enjoyed it, I’m a little hard-pressed to think of discussion topics for WYGB. Aside from the fact that I believe we all hail from the PNW (and certainly went to college there), I’m not sure what else there is for a handful of starving ex-English majors to really sink their teeth into. In itself a worthy academic challenge, I suppose. Really, though, I’m pretty sure we could spend the entire time calling out the hysterical Seattle stereotypes. As the NYT points out:
[Galer Street School] gives three grades: S for “Surpasses Excellence,” A for “Achieves Excellence” and W for “Working Towards Excellence.” So every kid is some kind of excellent.
BAHAHA. So funny because so true. God, I love the PNW.