Book Club: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

The other day, for the first time in years, I found myself in a bookstore purposefully perusing for new books to read. Pause for effect. Years.

I actually grew up in brick and mortar bookstores. One in particular. Before Borders went bankrupt, the one that sprawled across the entirety of the first floor of Wheelock Place on Singapore’s Orchard Road was my hunting ground. I’d sneak in half-hour jaunts before meeting friends for playdates. Quarter-hours waiting to be picked up after after-school activities. Full hours when the day was left to my own design. Entire days when I simply couldn’t tear myself free from the gravitational pull of those wet sand-colored wooden shelves (particularly, those in the “Fiction” aisle).

Over the course of my adolescence, I came to develop a keen spidey sense with respect to the book selection process. My preferences weren’t genre-loyal or content-specific. They weren’t even always explainable. I would just scan the spines until I felt compelled to pluck one off the shelf. I’d survey the back cover summary and, with as little conscious thought as I employed picking the contender, decide that I either didn’t quite care to inquire further or that I desperately needed to know what lay between the covers. Only at the close would it become searingly clear how conscious my unconscious selection had been.

Gearing up for my move to London, I did a lot of thinking about the all importance of perspective. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” happens to brilliantly illuminate the all importance of perspective.

Just shy of the Fox family’s upcoming trip to Antartica, Bernadette Fox – renowned former architectural genius, mother to Bee (perhaps the most emotionally intelligent child ever to not exist), wife to the Elgin Fox (tech genius at Microsoft and TED talk celebrity), and borderline agoraphobic – goes missing. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” reads like a well-composed scrapbook, a re-construction through correspondence, receipts, and even weather reports of the events leading up to and following Bernadette’s disappearance.

  1. It’s hilarious. “Where You’d Go, Bernadette” is tongue-in-cheek humor at its finest.
  2. If you’ve got even a smidgen of a dramatic curmudgeon in you – and let’s be honest, “Hi, my name is Estherina, and I am a dramatic curmudgeon.” – you’ll love and relate to Bernadette.

    I'm not too good when exposed to people.

    Set in “suburban” (quotes because we’re talking atmosphere, not geography) Seattle, the first slice of the book chronicles Bernadette’s battles against the “gnats”, the other parents at Bee’s school. You don’t need to be locked in a death spiral with overbearing, cookie-cutter PTA parents to relate. In millennial speech: This is run-of-the-mill humorous hatin’ on “basic” bros and… babes.

    Its like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. 'You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won't matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.'

  3. It’s multi-faceted. Dozens of themes thread their way through its pages. For example, the idea that creation is a necessary catharsis.

    People like you must create. If you don't create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.

  4. Like I mentioned before, a symphony on perspective. No spoilers here, but if ever there was a reminder to stop excusing oneself from the responsibility of captaining one’s own life, it is the story of Bernadette Fox.

    I'm going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it's boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it's on you to make life interesting, the better off you'll be.

    It’s really a triumphant call to arms:

    My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I'm going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I'm about to kick the shit out of life.